What is strep throat?

Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils caused by the bacterium "Group A streptococcus". Strep throat is a specific type of sore throat and has similar symptoms and development patterns as other types of sore throat, such as tonsillitis.  
Strep throat differs from other classes of sore throat in that it is an infection caused by a specific type of bacteria. This makes strep throat easy to diagnose, and often easy to treat, since the cause of the infection can be quickly identified. Unfortunately, the group A strep bacteria are very highly contagious. Infected persons can easily spread the bacteria through direct contact, sharing of food or drink, and even through the air in water droplets. Because of this, prevention is of utmost importance when dealing with strep throat, and proper hygiene is essential.
The group A strep bacteria infect children much more easily than adults due to their weaker and less experienced immune systems.  This is especially dangerous as complications from untreated strep throat can be severe, such as rheumatic fever and kidney inflammation. Luckily, strep throat is treatable with antibiotics and is generally curable after 10 days of treatment.
Risk factors
  • Age: Strep throat infections appear much more commonly in children
  • Month: Strep occurs most often in the end of fall and early spring
  • Proximity: Close contact with a lot of people gives the bacteria a better chance of spreading
If you or your child show any symptoms of strep throat, such as sore throat with swollen lymph glands, a high fever, or problems breathing, you should see a doctor. A physical exam of the throat will tell the doctor that something is wrong but is not enough to diagnose strep throat. Doctors commonly use rapid strep tests to quickly determine if group A strep bacteria are causing the infection. This test consists of a throat swab and a test on the swab in the doctor's office. If the test is positive, treatment is administered, if the test is negative the doctor may send the swab to a lab for further testing which can take a few days but is more precise.  
Precision is important when diagnosing strep throat in children, as children with an untreated strep infection are at risk for developing rheumatic fever and other serious complications.
Strep throat is commonly cured in 10 days or less by prescription antibiotics. Doctors will often prescribe penicillin or amoxicillin, but different antibiotics can be used in the case of an allergy. Antibiotics can be given in the form of pills, liquid, or as a shot. Patients should take all the medication they are prescribed; do not stop treatment if your symptoms disappear as the bacteria may still be present.
To manage the pain and discomfort of strep throat you or your child should drink warm, soothing liquids such as tea, and/or take over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Strep is most common in children 5-15 years old
  • Approximately 11,000-13,000 invasive (untreated/advanced) cases of group A strep disease occur each year in the US
image of strep throat in a a patient

  • "CDC Features." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Jan. 2018, www.cdc.gov/features/strepthroat/index.html.
  • "Strep Throat." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Sept. 2016, www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/strep-throat.html.
  • "Strep Throat Diagnosis and Tests." Cleveland Clinic, 25 Nov. 2015, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4602-strep-throat/diagnosis-and-tests.
  • "Strep Throat." Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Jan. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/strep-throat/symptoms-causes/syc-20350338.
  • "Surveillance." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Sept. 2016, www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/surveillance.html.



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