What is strep throat?
Strep throat is an infection of the throat. Most sore throats are caused by viruses, but some are caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes. This bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics.
Strep throat infections are very contagious. They are usually passed directly from person to person from talking, coughing or sneezing.
Strep throat is common in school-age children. Children under 2 years old and adults not exposed to children are much less likely to get strep throat.
What are the symptoms of strep throat?
The symptoms of a strep throat infection may include:
- sore, red throat and tonsils
- painful swallowing
- muscle aches and pains
- feeling tired
- swollen, tender lymph nodes ("glands") in the neck
- loss of appetite
How is strep throat diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine your throat. They may rub a cotton swab against a tonsil in the back of your throat to get a sample of bacteria.
The sample will be tested in a lab to see if the cause of the sore throat is bacteria or a viral infection.
How is strep throat treated?
If your doctor suspects you have strep throat, they may prescribe an antibiotic before you have all the results from the lab tests. It is very important to take all of the prescribed medicine, even after the symptoms have gone away, to prevent the infection from coming back.
The symptoms of strep throat may go away as soon as 24 hours after you start treatment. The symptoms rarely last longer than 5 days.
You can be contagious for 2 to 3 weeks if you’re not treated. But if you take antibiotics, you will stop being contagious after about 24 hours.
Strep throat self-care
It's important you follow the full treatment prescribed by your doctor.
If you have a strep throat, there are a number of different ways that might help ease your symptoms:
- Make sure you have enough fluids. Drink clear soup, cold drinks, and other clear, nutritious liquids. If eating hurts your throat, don't force yourself to eat solid food. When you are able to eat more foods, choose healthy food to give you strength and to help fight the infection.
- Do not smoke. Do not breathe second-hand smoke.
- Gargle with salt water.
- Suck on lozenges or hard candy.
- Don't talk a lot. Rest your voice.
- Put warm compresses on your neck.
Make sure you don’t pass strep throat to anyone else by washing your hands and by covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
Can strep throat be prevented?
The following suggestions may help you prevent the spread of your strep infection to others:
- Avoid close contact with other people until you have been taking the antibiotic for at least 24 hours and you feel well.
- Use tissues when you cough and dispose of them carefully.
- Hand washing is the best method of prevention. Wash your hands before you touch food, dishes, glasses, silverware, napkins, etc.
- Wash your hands after you cough and before you touch certain things, like food, dishes, glasses, silverware or napkins.
- Use paper cups, or separate cups, and paper towels in bathrooms instead of shared drinking cups and hand towels.
- Do not share food and eating utensils with others.
- Do not prepare food for others if you have strep throat.
People with strep throat should not go to childcare, preschool, school or work until they are no longer contagious.
Complications of strep throat
If it’s not treated, strep throat can lead to complications including:
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Last reviewed: January 2020