Published March 02, 2012
Strep throat, also known as streptococcal pharyngitis, is the most common bacterial throat infection, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Because most sore throats are caused by viruses, strep must be diagnosed with a test that detects the presence of bacteria. Once the sickness is diagnosed, strep is typically cured with antibiotics. While anyone can contract strep throat, it primarily affects children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 15.
Strep throat infection can range from mild to severe. Individuals typically feel sick within five days of contact with strep-related bacteria. You usually start to feel sick about two to five days after you come in contact with the bacteria. Treatment for strep can usually alleviate the symptoms within 24 hours, and the illness resolves in about one week. Left untreated, strep can cause complications, ranging from minor ear infections to a potentially serious kidney disorder called post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis.
Common symptoms include a sudden fever, red and sore throat with white patches, headache, nausea and chills. Strep may also cause a loss of appetite or difficulty swallowing. Lymph nodes — small glands that help fight infection — may begin to swell in your throat. Some types of strep throat may cause a rash, which doctors believe to be an allergic reaction to bacterial toxins. The physical symptoms for strep throat can point to a number of different throat problems. A non-invasive rapid strep test is usually used to diagnose strep and distinguish it from other causes for sore throats. If the test results report negative for strep, but the doctor still suspects the disease, a saliva sample may be taken and observed for bacterial growth. These tests can take up to two days to produce results.
Strep throat is caused by group A streptococcus (GAS) bacteria that are usually found on the throat or skin. GAS can cause mild illnesses such as strep throat or life-threatening diseases including necrotizing fasciitis or streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strep-related bacteria usually spreads from person to person through nasal secretions or saliva. The best means to prevent strep throat is avoiding contact with an infected individual. Carriers may spread the bacteria without experiencing any effects of illness. If strep frequently occurs within a single household, a doctor may test all of the residents to find out if anyone is a carrier.
Strep is generally treated with a regimen of fast-acting antibiotics. Doctors will usually prescribe penicillin or amoxicillin first. Patients typically take antibiotics for 10 days, although symptoms will likely disappear after a few days. The disease appears suddenly and resolves just as quickly, as a person on medication should feel better within 24 to 48 hours of treatment. To prevent contagion, the NIH recommends that children with strep throat stay out of school at least one day after starting antibiotics.
Various home remedies can help alleviate a sore throat. Some people feel better after drinking warm liquids like tea with honey, while others prefer cold liquids to soothe their inflamed throats. Gargling with warm salt water may cleanse your throat and ease the soreness. Cool-mist vaporizers and humidifiers can moisten a dry throat.