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Strep Throat

Last updated Aug. 14, 2019

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

BruceBlaus

Strep Throat (or Streptococcal Throat Infection) is a contagious bacterial infection caused by Group A Streptococcal bacteria that affects the throat and tonsils. The diagnosis of Strep Throat is made through a throat culture and rapid antigen test.


What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Group A Streptococcal Infection
  • Strep Throat Infection
  • Streptococcal Throat Infection

What is Strep Throat? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Strep Throat (or Streptococcal Throat Infection) is a contagious bacterial infection caused by Group A Streptococcal bacteria that affects the throat and tonsils. The throat is infected, irritated, and develops sore throat (pharyngitis)
  • It can also cause fever, difficulty while swallowing, body ache, and loss of appetite, with complications such as inflammation of the heart and kidneys and spread of infection to other body regions
  • The infection can easily spread from one individual to another through inhalation of respiratory droplets. Young children are more likely to be affected by Strep Throat
  • The diagnosis of Strep Throat is made through a throat culture and rapid antigen test
  • Streptococcal Throat Infection is usually treated using oral antibiotics, which can bring about a relief within 3-5 days of starting treatment. Antibiotic therapy reduces the risk of various complications arising out of Strep Throat
  • The prognosis is generally excellent with appropriate treatment

Who gets Strep Throat? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Strep Throat can occur at any age, but is generally prevalent in school-going children and teenagers
  • Children in the age group of 5-15 years are typically affected
  • The infection can affect both male and female genders
  • Strep Throat is observed worldwide; all racial and ethnic groups are affected

What are the Risk Factors for Strep Throat? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factors that may increase the occurrence of Strep Throat include:

  • Age: Strep Throat occurs in school-going children (5-15 years), who are more susceptible to the condition. Also, kids and teenagers stay in large numbers (as a group) in schools and dormitories
  • Time of the year: Episodes of Strep Throats mainly occur during late fall (autumn) and early spring
  • Close contact with the infected individual

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Strep Throat? (Etiology)

  • Strep Throat is a contagious infection caused by bacteria (Group A Streptococcus such as Streptococcus pyogenes). It affects the throat and tonsils
  • The infection spreads from one individual to another through inhalation of infected particles generated in the atmosphere, when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, or even through kissing

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Strep Throat?

The signs and symptoms associated with Strep Throat include:

  • Severe sore throat that develops suddenly, white or yellow spots on the back of the throat
  • Red and swollen tonsils, difficulty and pain while swallowing
  • Tender and swollen lymph nodes
  • High fever, headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Skin rashes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Body aches

How is Strep Throat Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Strep Throat may involve:

  • Complete evaluation of medical history and thorough physical exam
  • Physical examination: The physician will examine for symptoms such as fever and swollen lymph nodes

Following tests are generally carried out to confirm the diagnosis of Strep Throat

  • Throat culture: Sample tissue is taken from the tonsils and throat and is sent to the lab for detailed testing. The results may be known after 48 hours
  • Rapid antigen test: Since the results of the culture takes 2 days, the healthcare provider may recommend a rapid antigen test on the sample taken from the throat and tonsils. This can produce results within a short period of time (few minutes). However, this method is not considered to be very reliable

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Strep Throat?

Strep Throat can lead to complications such as the spread of infection to the sinuses, skin, blood, and middle ear. The disease may also cause serious inflammatory conditions such as:

  • Scarlet fever: Illness caused by Strep Throat characterized by the appearances of rashes on the body
  • Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidney)
  • Rheumatic fever: A condition that affects the heart, joints, skin, and the nervous system
  • Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome: A severe illness characterized by low blood pressure and shock
  • Peritonsillar abscess: Collection of pus around  the tonsils
  • Cervical lymphadenitis: Inflammation of the lymph nodes
  • Mastoiditis: Infection of the air cells of the skull, behind the ear
  • Guttate psoriasis 

How is Strep Throat Treated?

The treatment for Strep Throat may include the following medications and conservative measures:

  • Use of oral antibiotics
  • Over-the-counter medications that are recommended to decrease the throat pain and bring down the fever, and it may include ibuprofen and acetaminophen
  • Good hydration through drinking plenty of fluids; drinking warm liquids, such as lemon tea, can help soothe the throat
  • Resting helps decrease the recovery period
  • The use of nasal saline sprays or a home-humidifier can help with breathing
  • Avoidance of smoking
  • Warm saltwater gargles may be beneficial

If complications occur due to a Strep Throat Infection, hospitalization may be necessary.

How can Strep Throat be Prevented?

Preventive measures to reduce the risk of Strep Throat include:

  • Frequent cleaning of hands with soap and water
  • Covering the mouth while coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as drinking glasses, utensils, clothes, etc., while being infected
  • Infected children should refrain from going to school (per advise of the healthcare provider)
  • Children at school who may have been potentially exposed to Strep Throat Infection may have to be monitored for signs and symptoms
  • Use of hand-sanitizer is not as good as washing one’s hands with soap and water; but it is still a convenient method to reduce the chances of infection spread
  • Early diagnosis and treatment is an easy and appropriate method to avoid infection spread to others
  • Dispose the toothbrush being used before completing the antibiotic therapy; the Strep Throat bacteria can persist in a toothbrush and cause a reinfection
  • Check family members if they are carriers of the infection, who may not show signs and symptoms of the infection themselves, but can infect individuals around them periodically. The healthcare provider may treat a Strep Throat carrier depending upon the individual’s specific circumstances

What is the Prognosis of Strep Throat? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • The prognosis of a Strep Throat Infection is generally excellent. The symptoms show improvement within 3 to 5 days of commencing treatment
  • Antibiotic therapy can reduce the risk of various complications of Strep Throat. However, care must be taken to prevent rheumatic fever, which is a serious complication

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Strep Throat:

  • The strep test detects the presence of S. pyogenes in a throat swab sample. It is used to diagnose Strep Throat 

The following article link will help you understand the strep test:

http://www.dovemed.com/common-procedures/procedures-laboratory/strep-test/

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 13, 2015
Last updated: Aug. 14, 2019