Strep throat is a contagious disease (meaning that you catch it from another person). It is caused by infection with group A streptococci (pronounced: strep-toe-kok-sigh) bacteria, and it’s very common among teens. The symptoms of strep throat include sore throat, fever and stomach pain, along with red and swollen tonsils.
Strep throat usually requires a trip to the doctor and treatment with antibiotics. With the proper medical care — along with plenty of rest and fluids — you should be back on your feet in no time.
How Do People Get It?
Teens tend to get strep throat most often during the school year when big groups of people are close together.
The bacteria that cause strep throat tend to hang out in the nose and throat, so sneezing, coughing, or shaking hands can easily spread the strep infection from one person to another. That’s why it’s so important to wash your hands as often as possible.
Is It Strep Throat or Just a Sore Throat?
Most sore throats are caused by viruses. If you have a runny nose, cough, hoarseness, and red or runny eyes, it’s probably a virus and will clear up on its own.
Strep throat is different. Signs that you may have strep throat include:
- red and white patches in the throat
- trouble swallowing
- tender, swollen glands (lymph nodes) on the sides of your neck
- red, big tonsils
- stomach pain
- feeling weak or sick
- loss of appetite and nausea
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s definitely time to see your doctor.
A doctor can often do a rapid strep test right in the office. He or she will use a swab to take a sample of the fluids at the back of your throat. It usually only takes about 5 minutes to find out if you’ve got strep throat. If the rapid test is normal, the doctor will probably send a sample to a lab for a throat culture, just to make sure. Throat culture results are usually back within about 2 days.
If you have strep throat, your doctor will either treat you with one antibiotic shot, or will give you a prescription to take antibiotics by mouth for about 10 days. If you take the shot, then you are done with the treatment and don’t have to take more medicine by mouth. You will begin to feel better about 24 hours after treatment.
Even if you don’t feel sick anymore, it’s important to take the antibiotics for the full 10 days. If you don’t finish all the antibiotics, you are at risk for developing rheumatic fever, which can lead to permanent heart damage.
Keeping Strep to Yourself
To prevent getting other people sick, it’s important to stay home for at least 24 hours until the antibiotics have had a chance to work. Wash your forks, spoons, plates, and cups in hot, soapy water after you use them. Don’t share food, drinks, napkins, handkerchiefs, or towels with other people. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough to prevent passing fluid droplets to someone else. Wash your hands frequently, especially after wiping or blowing your nose.
What Can I Do to Feel Better?
Drink lots of cool liquids, such as water or ginger ale, especially if you have a fever. Stay away from orange juice, lemonade, and other acidic drinks because they can sting your throat. Warm liquids like soups, tea with honey, or hot chocolate can be soothing.
Ask your doctor before using throat drops or over-the-counter throat sprays because these may make a strep infection feel worse.
Reviewed by: Iman Sharif, MD
Date reviewed: November 9
© 1995- 2010 . The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Reprinted with permission.