Strep throat is an infection of the pharynx caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes (also known as group A strep). The pharynx is the part of the throat between the tonsils and the larynx, or voice box.
Strep throat is the most common of the many infections that are caused by group A streptococci (GAS). The bacteria that cause strep throat make a toxin that results in an inflammation in the throat and tonsils. A person can develop symptoms of strep throat from 1 to 6 days after being exposed to the bacteria.
Symptoms in up to 40% of children may be too mild to come to the attention of a healthcare professional. Up to 20% of school-aged children may be carriers of the bacteria. These children will show no symptoms but can transmit strep throat to others. Strep throat is more significant than sore throats caused by viruses because of the likelihood of complications is higher.
The following are symptoms of strep throat: sore throat that starts suddenly, without runny nose or congestion"fiery" red throatpainful swallowingwhite patches on the tonsilsswollen lymph nodes in the neckfever, with a temperature of 101 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38.3 to 40 degrees celsiusheadacheloss of appetitefatigue
Children with strep throat may also have these additional symptoms: nauseavomitingabdominal distress
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that is usually spread by person-to-person contact through coughing or sneezing. Exposure to a person who has untreated strep throat may pose a risk for acquiring this infection. A person may be a carrier of the strep bacteria without having symptoms.
People who may be more at risk for serious strep infection include: people who have chronic conditions or diseases such as diabetes people who have weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or other immunodeficiency disorders children who have chickenpox
Strep throat can be spread from person to person. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is the best way to prevent the disease and its complications. Anyone with strep throat should take antibiotics for at least 24 hours before returning to work, school, or day care. In addition, hands should be washed thoroughly and soiled tissues should be discarded promptly.
Strep throat may be suspected after a medical history and physical exam are performed. However, even in persons who have typical symptoms and findings of strep throat, it is not possible to distinguish strep throat from a viral infection on the basis of history and physical alone. Thus, it is necessary to swab the back of the throat to get a sample of the bacteria to guide the treatment.
Tests that may be done on this sample are: a rapid chemical test for streptococcal antigen, which makes it possible to make the diagnosis within minutesthroat culture, which involves the growing of bacteria in the lab and takes at least 24 hours
Blood tests, including a complete blood count or CBC, may also be done to check for evidence of infection.
In most cases, there are no long-term effects from strep throat. Complications may occur if a strep infection is not treated, including the following: ear infections, such as acute otitis mediatonsillitis, with abscesses or damage to the tonsilsscarlet fever, a rash associated with strep throatrheumatic fever, an inflammation of the joints and the heart that can cause heart damagepoststreptococcal glomerulonephritis, an inflammation of the kidney that can lead to kidney damagevery rarely, death
Anyone with an untreated strep throat can spread it to others.
Penicillin is the usual treatment for strep throat. If a person is allergic to penicillin, another antibiotic may be used. To prevent the complications of strep infections, it is important to take the entire course of antibiotics prescribed, even if the symptoms subside.
Ways to reduce the symptoms include: rest, especially when fever is presentwarm salt-water gargles and throat lozenges to reduce pain and inflammationover-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol), for pain and fever plenty of liquids. Iced drinks or milk shakes, as well as a soft-foods diet, may help to relieve discomfort.
Aspirin should not be given to any person under age 18 without a physicians specific recommendation, as it increases the risk of a serious disorder known as Reye's syndrome.
The most common side effects of antibiotics are stomach upset, rash, and allergic reaction.
Most strep throat infections respond rapidly to treatment. Usually no further treatment is needed.
Any new or worsening symptoms should also be reported to the healthcare professional.