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What Is a Strep Test?


Updated October 02, 2009

Question: What Is a Strep Test?

A strep test is the method used to diagnose strep throat. There are two kinds of tests that can be used to detect this infection. One is the gold standard of a throat culture, but this takes 24 to 48 hours to get an accurate result. The second option is a rapid strep test, which provides immediate results. However, false-negative rapid strep tests are common. The American Academy of Pediatrics requires that all negative rapid strep tests in children are backed up by a throat culture.

Both the rapid strep test and a throat culture can cause a small amount of discomfort. The doctor will tell you to open your mouth as wide as possible. While using a tongue depressor, the doctor will rub the back of your throat with a long cotton swab (often, specifically the tonsils). Occasionally, two swabs are necessary. This can cause a gagging sensation, but it is usually performed very quickly (within just a few seconds). The swabs are then evaluated for the streptococcus bacteria.

If the rapid strep test is positive, you (or your child) will be prescribed an antibiotic. If the rapid strep test comes back negative, most doctors will not give a prescription. However, if the throat culture comes back positive for strep later, your doctor will most likely call an antibiotic prescription into your pharmacy. Strep throat must be treated with an antibiotic to avoid long-term and dangerous strep complications -- especially in children.


NLM Gateway. Second Rapid Strep A test vs Back Up Culture For the Diagnosis of S. pyogenes Pharyngitis. Accessed: September 29, 2009.

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