INFECTIOUS DISEASE CENTER

Is Strep Throat Contagious?

By Michele C. Hollow @michelechollow
 | 
September 25, 2017

Strep throat is a very contagious infection that can be cured with antibiotics, but you should avoid contact within anyone for at least 24 hours, if not longer.

Is it a sore throat or strep? That’s a good question to ask your doctor. One way to know what you have is by the length of time that you feel ill. A sore throat frequently is the first sign of a cold. It usually lasts a day or two. Strep throat, however, is an infection caused by streptococcus bacteria and can last a few weeks. The good news is that it can be treated with antibiotics.

Is strep throat contagious?

Strep throat is spread through contact from an infected person. If someone with strep throat coughs or sneezes near you and you are sprayed with a few droplets from that person, you can get infected.

 

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Symptoms of strep throat

If you have strep, you’ll notice your throat is sore and red. Other symptoms include: severe pain when swallowing, a fever of 101 or higher, and swollen lymph nodes in the front of your neck.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people should stay home from work, school, or daycare until they have taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours. That kills the window of contagion. Left untreated, strep throat can be passed from one person to another.

To find out if you have strep throat, your doctor will recommend a rapid strep screen test. This is done by having the physician take a sample of cells from your tonsils and back of your throat. It’s simple and painless. Then your doctor will test it in his office. You can get the results in fewer than five minutes. If the rapid strep screen is positive, you have strep throat and won’t need any further tests.

If the test comes back negative and you have all of the symptoms of strep, your doctor may do a different throat culture test. This one also requires your physician to use a cotton swab to get cells from your tonsils or back of your throat. The sample is then sent to a lab, where it is grown or cultured and tested for strep bacteria. You’ll get the results within two days.

Antibiotics for strep throat

If either test comes back positive for strep throat, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear your infection. “The antibiotic can be prescribed in multiple forms, including liquid, capsules, or intramuscular injections,” said Michael Traylor of the Cleveland Clinic. “Whether it’s you or your child with strep throat, it’s important to take all of the medication, as prescribed; otherwise, the infection can return.”

Penicillin is usually prescribed for strep throat, unless you are allergic to it. In that case, your doctor may prescribe cephalexin, erythromycin, or azithromycin.

How long is strep throat contagious?

According to Traylor, strep throat is contagious, and it’s easy to spread until you’ve taken the prescribed antibiotics for 24 hours. “Don’t return to work, or allow your child to return to school until after the 24-hour period has passed,” he said.

Strep throat is so contagious that Traylor recommends that you replace all toothbrushes and thoroughly wash any cups or drinking glasses that you used when you had the disease. The same goes for silverware people used when they had strep.

He also recommends taking an extra day before returning to work or school just to make sure you are past the contagious period.

The best way to prevent strep throat is to wash your hands often, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and don’t drink from the same glass or eat from the same plate or share utensils with someone who is infected with the disease. It’s wise to keep your distance from someone who has strep throat.

 

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Updated:

September 25, 2017

Reviewed By:

Janet O’Dell, RN