Cold and flu season has arrived and with it comes sneezing, coughing, sore throats and even fevers. Although most sore throats are caused by viral infections or allergies, strep throat can also be the culprit.
Strep throat is caused by a streptococcal bacteria infection in the throat and tonsils. Common symptoms include sudden and severe sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and tonsils, bright red throat with yellow or white spots and fever.
Because it is caused by bacteria, it is also very contagious. Strep bacteria can spread when a person with strep throat breathes, coughs or sneezes, spreading small particles of saliva, nasal secretions and respiratory droplets.
Strep is most common in children ages 5 to 15, but adults can experience it as well. It is common in the later fall and early spring and is often more widespread when children are in school and in close quarters where the bacteria can spread easily from one child to another.
Strep throat is diagnosed using a rapid strep test. The test is performed through a simple throat swab in your primary care provider's office. Results are returned within 10 minutes.
Strep is treated with antibiotic medications and usually goes away in three to seven days. However, the infection is contagious until about 24 hours after starting antibiotics. If you have strep, wash your hands often and don't share drinks or eating utensils.
There are a couple common guides to help tell the difference between strep throat and a sore throat caused by a cold or virus. A sore throat from a cold usually goes away in a day or two, while strep throat is often more severe and will persist for a longer period of time. A cough is also more common with a cold or virus rather than strep.
It is often too difficult to know definitively whether or not strep throat is present without a professional evaluation. So if you have a sore throat, a visit your primary care provider is in order. Strep throat can lead to more serious illness, such as rheumatic fever, so its important to treat the infection early.