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HomeHealth A-Z Strep Throat
Strep Throat
Strep Throat
The diagnosis of strep throat is quite simple for doctors because the signs are generally obvious.

Strep Throat

Definition of Strep Throat

Strep Throat is an infection of the throat and tonsils caused by the streptococcus bacteria.

Description of Strep Throat

Streptococcal pharyngitis, also known as strep throat, is a type of Group A streptococcal infection. This infection affects primarily the pharynx, though it can irritate surrounding tissues. Anyone of any age is susceptible to strep throat and despite common conceptions, strep throat can occur not only in the winter, but all year long. Strep throat is one of the more common bacterial infections, with many people reporting that they have had the bacterial infection at least once in their lifetime.

Causes and Risk Factors of Strep Throat

The cause of strep throat is exposure to the Streptococcal infection. Most of the time what happens is that someone that you know at work, school, or even a member of your own family that has strep throat will give you the infection. When the infected person blows his or her nose, coughs, or sneezes when you are nearby you can get the infection. Also, sharing spoons, straws, or cups can spread the bacteria between individuals. In very rare instances contaminated food such as milk and other dairy products can cause strep throat. After you have been exposed to strep throat you will begin to feel sick within five days. Infected patients that are not treated will remain infectious for as many as 2-3 weeks, though the incubation period for the bacteria differs from individual to individual.

Those most likely to get strep throat are usually between the ages of five and 15. The people that are most at risk of getting strep throat are those that have had strep throat in the past and those that have had recurrent episodes and still have their tonsils. As mentioned above, you can get strep throat during any time of the year but are more likely to be infected in late fall, winter, and early spring. Anyone that is in close contact with other people is more likely to be infected with strep throat because the disease simply is very contagious and thrives in schools, work places, day cares, as well as between family members.

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Symptoms of Strep Throat

The symptoms of strep throat are generally hard to miss by experienced parents and physicians, though some individuals don't report any symptoms at all. The most common symptoms are a sore throat, whitening or reddening of the tonsils, fever, as well as problems with both eating and swallowing. Occasionally some patients may break out in a rash, primarily on the trunk of their body. Other individuals will experience headaches as well as an upset stomach or nausea. Most individuals complain that acidic foods and beverages such as orange juice, grapefruit, and citrus juices are quite painful to drink when they have strep throat because of the inflammation of the throat.

Diagnosis of Strep Throat

The diagnosis of strep throat is quite simple for doctors because the signs are generally obvious. The white or red spots or stripes that appear on the tonsils are very distinctive most of the time and the doctor doesn't even have to run a test. The throat can simply be swabbed and a test can be run right in the doctor's office that checks for the presence of the bacteria that causes strep throat. The test takes just minutes and will confirm a doctor's best guess so that the patient can begin treatment sooner rather than later. Ten years ago a strep test would have to be taken from the throat and then sent to a lab, with results coming back 24 hours later. The ability to treat patients right away reduces their chances of affecting others with the bacterial infection.

Treatment of Strep Throat

The treatment of strep throat is generally quite simple and one treatment course is usually effective. Antibiotic treatment is what is called for, and the antibiotics will begin to reduce the symptoms as well as the transmission rates within 24 hours. The normal course of treatment is 10 days of penicillin orally or one single injection of penicillin. For those that are allergic to penicillin or have taken a dose recently erythromycin is the next best choice. Other antibiotics that can be used to treat strep throat include amoxicillin, clindamycin, as well as cephalosporins. It's important not to treat with penicillian if a bacterial infection has not been confirmed as the antibiotic can cause serious problems if not used properly.

When antibiotics are taken, patients will begin to feel better in just four days and will likely be able to return to all of their normal, day to day activities. While patients may feel better, it is important to take all of the medication, because rheumatic fever can occur. Rheumatic fever is rare, but when it occurs it can be a serious condition. Other complications can occur if treatment is not completed including sinus infections, abscess of the tonsils, or ear infection.

Until antibiotics begin to work, patients can treat strep throat by sipping warm liquids, ingesting plenty of fluids, taking pain relieving medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen as they will help to reduce the sore throat and fever. Those with strep throat should also be sure to get plenty of rest to enable their body to use its energy to get better. Recovering from strep throat is much easier if the infection is treated sooner rather than later. If you begin to feel ill with a sore throat, stomach ache, or headaches and you have been exposed to the strep bacteria, it's ideal to get into the doctor for diagnosis as soon as possible. Those that seek treatment earlier will recover sooner, enabling them to get back to their day to day goings on much sooner.

Prevention of Strep Throat

Preventing strep throat is very difficult because many of the people that are spreading it don't even know that they are infected. The best idea to prevent strep throat is to avoid using the same glass or straw as other people and also avoid being so close to people that they can cough or sneeze on you as this is the way that the bacteria is transmitted from one person to another.

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External Resources

University of Pennsylvania Health System

Hardin MD, University of Iowa

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