All About Strep Throat

Strep Throat is Common Cause of Sore Throat in Kids

Doctor using tongue depressor to allow examination of young boy's throat
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Streptococcus pyrogenes, is the bacteria responsible for strep throat, a common childhood infection. Also called Group A "Strep," these bacteria are also responsible for other diseases, including impetigo, toxic shock syndrome, and necrotizing fasciitis (a.k.a. flesh-eating bacteria).

Thanks to medical advances, strep throat can be diagnosed and treated within the same day of a doctor's appointment.

Within 24 hours of starting antibiotics, the infection is no longer contagious, and many symptoms will likely have subsided.

How Strep Throat Spreads

Strep throat is a contagious disease that is spread person-to-person, via saliva or nasal secretions. The most common route of infection is through respiratory droplets (breathing in when someone near you sneezes, etc.)

Who’s at Risk for Strep Throat?

Children between 5 and 10 years of age are at highest risk for strep throat, though all people can get the infection. Small children under 3 years of age are less prone to getting strep throat for an unknown reason.

Symptoms of Strep Throat

Within 2 to 4 days after encountering the microbe, symptoms that appear include sudden, sore throat, fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes. Some individuals will also have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, or rash. The inside of the throat will be red and swollen with grayish white patches of pus.

Some individuals will develop a red, spotty rash which begins on the face and spreads to the rest of the body. There is usually no cough or stuffy nose associated with strep throat.

Diagnosis of Strep Throat

The rapid antigen test is now the preferred test of choice since it only takes a few minutes.

A throat culture can also be used, although it takes 2 to 3 days to get a result.

Treatment for Strep Throat

Antibiotics, such as penicillin or amoxicillin, are commonly used. Erythromycin may be used for patients who are allergic to penicillins. Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) may be used to reduce fever and pain.

Prevention of Strep Throat

It would be nice to say you can protect yourself or your child from strep entirely, but you can't. Still, frequent hand-washing, good personal hygiene and staying away from infected individuals can help.

Complications of Strep Throat

The sore throat associated with strep usually resolves on its own. Antibiotics are used to prevent both immediate infectious problems and later serious autoimmune reactions, which may be life-threatening. But, it's important to note that most complications are uncommon in developed countries where good medical care is accessible.

Abscesses -- collections of strep infection near the throat, such as in the tonsils or behind the back of the throat -- may occur right away. Still, this complication is mostly seen in individuals who do not receive antibiotics. When these develop, they may need to be drained.

Later complications can include rheumatic fever (an immune reaction against part of the heart tissue), rheumatic heart disease and acute glomerulonephritis (kidney disease).

The heart-related immune complications are the biggest reason that physicians aggressively treat strep throat with antibiotics; treatment with these drugs within 10 days of the sort throat almost completely prevents these complications.


The current evidence for the burden of group A streptococcal diseases. World Health Organization. Child and Adolescent Health Development. 2005

Mims CA et al. Medical Microbiology. ©1993. Mosby-Year Book Europe Limited. London, UK. pp. 20.5-20.6

Salyers AA and Whitt DD. Bacterial Pathogenesis: A Molecular Approach. ©1994, American Society for Microbiology, Washington, DC.

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Streptococcus spp. USFDA Bad Bug Book. Center for Food Safety and Nutrition.

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