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How to Spot Strep Throat

While people of any age can get strep throat, it’s a bacterial infection that favors children between the ages of 5 and 15, usually during the colder months of the school year. Children will contract strep throat about once every four years, on average.

Dr. Betsy Horton and the team at Alpha Internal Medicine are strep throat specialists. If you suspect that you or anyone in your family has a sore throat due to strep, it’s time to contact the professionals, before they develop complications.

How to spot strep throat

Sore throats are common, particularly when your child is exposed to fellow students in the school environment. Most sore throats are minor and will pass quickly. They can even occur simply due to boisterous play, shouting, and laughing with their friends. When a sore throat accompanies a cold or flu, the pain persists, but again, throat symptoms clear up as the illness passes.

Strep throat has its own distinguishing characteristics, and it’s possible to recognize differences between strep and other sore throats. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of strep throat is its rapid onset. Most sore throats start as a tickle or roughness, then grow over a day or two into a sore throat.

Strep throat can advance from a tickle to sharp pain with difficulty swallowing in a matter of hours. The child who is fine in the morning can come home with strep throat raging. Other signs of strep throat include:

You can also identify strep throat by what isn’t present. Viral illnesses have symptoms not caused by the strep throat bacteria, so a strep sore throat isn’t likely to happen alongside coughing, runny nose, voice hoarseness, or pink eye.

The cause of strep throat

Strep throat results from infection by a highly contagious bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A streptococcus. These bacteria can be transmitted through the air and can survive on surfaces such as doorknobs or tables. Sharing contaminated food and drink is another way you may be infected.

While strep throat isn’t serious itself, the bacterial infection can spread to the tonsils, sinuses, middle ear, skin, and blood. And in children, strep throat can progress into scarlet or rheumatic fever or other inflammatory conditions.

Confirming a strep infection

A throat culture or rapid strep test is needed to confirm strep throat infection. The rapid strep test uses a swab of the throat that gives quick results when strep is present. However, it’s possible to have both a negative throat swab and strep. A throat culture is commonly used when strep throat is still suspected after a negative rapid test.

Antibiotics usually clear up strep throat pain in 24 to 48 hours, so the sooner treatment starts, the faster you or your child will feel better. Contact Alpha Internal Medicine by phone or online to schedule a throat examination as soon as you suspect a sore throat may be strep. 

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