Thumbnail image of: Head and Throat: Illustration

Strep Throat

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is an infection of the throat caused by bacteria called group A streptococcus.

What is the cause?

Strep infections are very contagious. Strep is passed to others by sneezing, coughing, or touching something with the bacteria on it. Strep can be on surfaces such as toys, cups or plates, doorknobs, or telephones.

Strep throat is common in school-age children. Children under 2 years old and adults who are not exposed to children are much less likely to get strep throat. Strep is most common from November through April, but it can happen any time of year.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Sore throat and painful swallowing
  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes (“glands”) in the neck
  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches
  • Fine red rash on trunk and arms
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Loss of appetite

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Usually you will have a strep test. Your provider will rub a cotton swab against the back of your throat to get a sample for testing. The results may be available in an hour or less. In some cases, the swab is sent to the lab and tested. If you have an infection, it may take several days to find out what kind of germ is causing it. Knowing what germ is causing the infection helps your provider choose the right medicine to treat it.

How is it treated?

If your healthcare provider suspects you have strep, he or she may prescribe an antibiotic before you have all the results from the lab tests. This medicine may be taken as pills or given as a shot.

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.

It is very important to treat strep throat. Not getting treatment for strep throat, or not taking the medicine as prescribed, can lead to rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is a reaction to strep infection that can damage the heart valves and affect your joints and nervous system.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • If you are taking an antibiotic, take the medicine for as long as your healthcare provider prescribes, even if you feel better. If you stop taking the medicine too soon, you may not kill all of the bacteria and you may get sick again.
  • For a sore throat:
    • 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.
    • Gargle with salt water. You can make your own by mixing 1/2 teaspoon salt with 1 cup of water.
    • Suck on lozenges or hard candy.
    • Don’t talk a lot. Rest your voice.
    • Use a humidifier to put more moisture in the air. Avoid steam vaporizers because they can cause burns. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, as recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s important to keep bacteria and mold from growing in the water container.
    • Put warm compresses on your neck.
    • Do not smoke. Do not breathe second-hand smoke.
  • If you have a fever, rest and limit your activities until the fever is gone.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you can take acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen to reduce your fever and to relieve pain. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent strep throat?

The following suggestions may help you prevent spread of a strep infection to others.

  • Wash your hands often and especially after using the restroom, coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. Also wash your hands before eating or touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • Avoid close contact with other people, especially kissing and hugging, until you have taken the antibiotic for 24 to 48 hours.
  • Use paper cups, or separate cups, and paper towels in bathrooms instead of shared drinking cups and hand towels.
  • Don’t share food and eating utensils with others.
  • Be careful not to let your nose or mouth touch drinking fountains.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2014-09-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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