What Is Strep Throat?
Strep throat is an infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. Group A strep can also cause other illnesses such as impetigo. Strep throat is spread from one person to another through saliva or secretions. Strep throat is a common infection of the throat and typically affects people ages 5 to 15 years old, although anyone can get it. Some people are carriers of strep, meaning they are always infected with it but do not have symptoms of strep throat. Carriers can unwittingly spread strep to others, and can be responsible for recurring strep throat in families. You can find more info on group A strep infections via the CDC's website.
What Are Symptoms of Strep?
The most common symptom of strep throat is an extremely sore throat. It can also cause swollen tonsils. There are other symptoms too and you may develop some or all of them as each individual reacts to this bacteria differently. I once developed a large hard lump on the back of my neck, I felt fine, had no other symptoms, and was shocked when I went to the doctor and he told me I had a swollen lymph node due to a strep infection. For more information about symptoms of strep including a list symptoms you might experience, read:
If you are unsure if what you are experiencing is strep throat you may find it helpful to read:
How Is Strep Throat Diagnosed?
Strep throat can easily be diagnosed by your primary care physician or otolaryngologist (ENT doctor) with a throat culture. There are two forms of the test -- the rapid strep test gives results within minutes but can produce false negative results. The other, a common throat culture, involves sending a sample of the germs in your throat to a laboratory. This test is more accurate. For more information read:
How Is Strep Throat Treated?
Strep throat is treated using antibiotics. Amoxicillin is commonly prescribed to treat strep, but other antibiotics can be used as well. There have been cases of strep throat that are resistant to azithromycin (commonly called the Z-pack). It is important to take your antibiotic exactly as prescribed and finishe all of the medication. Many people do not know that failing to treat strep throat with an adequate round of antibiotics can lead to serious complications (more on that below). Symptoms of strep throat can be managed using over-the-counter pain medications. For more information read:
- Do I Need Antibiotics for Strep Throat?
- Managing Throat Pain
- Home Remedies for Tonsillitis and Sore Throat
How Long Is Strep Throat Contagious?
How long you can spread your strep infection to others depends on individual circumstances like how long you have been on antibiotics, when you first noticed symptoms and other factors. You can figure out if you are likely still contagious using the information in:
Complications of Strep Throat
There is an unusual phenomenon associated with group A streptococcus infections. Some people who don't take antibiotics have a dangerous immune system response in which (researchers believe) their own immune system can attack their internal organs. This can lead to serious and sometimes permanent damage. The bacteria also produces a dangerous erythrotoxin which can lead to heart problems. This is why you should always see a doctor if you have symptoms of strep throat. Many illnesses have similar symptoms to strep throat such as mono or even the common cold. The only way to know for sure that what you have is not strep throat is to be tested. Not all people who do not treat strep with an antibiotic will develop serious complications but there is really no way of knowing if you will or not.
It can be difficult for parents to recognize some cases of strep throat in small children. If your child is not eating or drinking well keep in mind that it may be because they have a sore throat and it is painful for them to swallow. Their pediatrician can quickly and painlessly (although it can be a bit irritating) do a strep test. For more in depth information on complications read:
While less serious, it should be noted that people who develop repeated strep infections can have extremely swollen tonsils and may eventually need to have them removed. For more info:
- What Causes Swollen Tonsils?
- Having Your Tonsils Removed
- Tonsillectomy Risks Versus Benefits: Is It Worth It?
- What Can I Eat After a Tonsillectomy?
- Can Your Tonsils Grow Back After a Tonsillectomy?
- Readers Respond: Tell Us What Was the Worst Part of Having Your Tonsils Removed
Recurring Strep Throat
Recurring strep throat happens When a person has multiple strep infections per year, near constant infections or if antibiotics fail to cure their strep throat. If you've had 7 or more infections in a year your doctor may recommend having your tonsils removed. Other factors that can be explored include determining if you have developed a resistant form of the bacteria, if you have a carrier in your family, or you have a weakened immune system. For more information on recurring strep throat and how to stop it read:
- What to Do About Recurring Strep Throat
- How Can I Stop Recurring Strep Throat? (Seven Easy Tips for Preventing and Curing Recurring Strep Throat)
This common infection is usually easily cured with a course of antibiotics and the prognosis is very good, even for those undergoing tonsillectomies.
Medline Plus. Strep Throat. Accessed: December 29, 2011 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000639.htm
Pubmed. Strep Throat. Accessed: December 29, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001663/