What Is Strep Throat?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
June 23, 2023
What Is Strep Throat?

What is strep throat? About a third of children with a sore throat have a strep infection. The condition usually occurs between the ages of five and 15.

What is strep throat?

Viruses cause most sore throats. But bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep) can infect your throat and make it sore.

Up to three in 10 children with a sore throat have a strep infection. That’s important to know because a strep infection could cause serious problems if left untreated. Unlike viruses, a strep infection can be treated with antibiotics.

Group A strep live in your nose and throat. You might be infected and not have symptoms or feel sick, but if you cough or sneeze tiny drops leave you and carry the bacteria to other people.


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How does strep spread?

Other people can get sick if they breathe in those droplets or touch something with the droplets on it and then touch their nose or mouth. You can also get it if you share a glass or eat from the same plate as someone who is infected.

Group A strep can cause sores on your skin, called impetigo. If you touch the sores, you can be infected as well. Very rarely, you might get group A strep from food. There is no evidence that pets or toys spread the bacteria.

It usually takes two to five days for your symptoms to show up after exposure. Strep spreads easily within a household.

Unlike with some viruses, you can get strep more than once — whenever you are exposed.

What are the symptoms of strep throat?

The most common signs of strep are:

  • Pain when you swallow
  • Fever
  • Red or swollen tonsils that might also have white patches
  • Tiny red spots on the roof of your mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the front of your neck

Other symptoms may include a headache, stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting, especially in children.

Suspect a virus, rather than strep, if you have a cough, runny nose, or pink eye, or if your throat is hoarse.

Who gets strep?

Anyone can get strep throat, but it’s rare in children younger than three. The prime time for strep is between the ages of five and 15. Among adults with a sore throat, only one in 10 have strep, usually because they’ve been in contact with children or another adult who has been with children.

How do you check for strep?

A doctor can’t tell just by looking at your throat. Instead, your doctor will swab your throat and run a rapid strep test. If it is positive for strep, you will most likely receive penicillin, amoxicillin, or another antibiotic. Make sure you tell your doctor if you or your child is allergic to antibiotics.

If the test is negative but your doctor suspects strep, another test called a throat culture swab that takes longer can catch infections the rapid test misses. Children and teens can get rheumatic fever, a heart disease, if a strep infection isn’t treated.

If you, or your child, don’t feel better after 48 hours of antibiotics for a strep infection, speak to your doctor. Sometimes people get sick with a virus but also have a positive rapid strep test.

It’s rare for strep to spread to other parts of your body, but it does happen. Strep can infect abscesses around your tonsils, lymph nodes, sinuses, and ears, or even your kidneys or heart.

How to prevent strep throat

The best way to avoid getting or spreading this infection is to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds after coughing or sneezing and before eating or touching food. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or upper sleeve or a tissue.

It’s safe to use glasses and utensils and plates after someone who is sick has used them, but only if they are washed.

Stay home if you are sick until you no longer have a fever and have taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours. Finish your medication even if symptoms go away.


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June 23, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN