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Strep Throat: Frequently Asked Questions

Get the Facts About Strep Throat

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Updated October 29, 2008

What is Strep Throat?

Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the inside of the throat. It is caused by the bacterial species Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as Group A Streptococcus, which can cause a wide spectrum of diseases other than strep throat.

What Are the Common Symptoms of Strep Throat?

  • sore throat that is red and swollen with grayish white patches of pus
  • high fever (101 to 104 is not uncommon in younger children)
  • headache
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • abdominal pain and vomiting (sometimes)
  • rash (sometimes)

Why Won’t My Doctor Just Give Me a Prescription for Antibiotics Over the Phone?

About 70% of sore throats are caused by viruses, for which antibiotics are useless. The “classic symptoms” of strep throat are not always as straightforward as they seem, and many viral infections take on the appearance of strep throat. In addition, unnecessary use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistant “superbugs” (antibiotic-resistant bacteria), which are potentially more dangerous and represent a growing problem worldwide.

Why Can a Doctor Diagnose Strep Throat Faster These Days?

It used to take two days to diagnose strep throat, but now doctors can do it within minutes. Most doctors’ offices now use a rapid test that only takes minutes. In the past, cultures of throat swabs were necessary to diagnose the infection, and these usually took 2 to 3 days before proper diagnosis could be made.

What Will I Do to Treat My Infection?

Amoxicillin or other penicillins are commonly prescribed antibiotics for treatment of strep throat. In cases of penicillin allergies, the antibiotic erythromycin may be used. To reduce fever and pain, Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) may be used. Of course, take only what your doctor recommends, and be sure to follow prescription instructions.

My Child Is on Antibiotics for Strep. When Can She Return to School?

Within 24 hours of starting antibiotic treatment, the infection is no longer contagious. If she has been on antibiotics for a day and is free of fever, preferably for the same length of time, she can return to class. Of course, symptoms do vary from child to child, so careful monitoring of your child will be important in determining when he or she is ready to return. Persistent fever can indicate that treatment has failed, an incorrect diagnosis was made or that something else is wrong. Call your pediatrician for next steps.

Should I Worry About My Baby Getting Strep From My Older Child?

Strep throat is a contagious disease, but it is not as contagious as colds or the flu. In addition, children under age 3 appear to be less prone to getting strep throat for an unknown reason.

My Doctor Prescribed 10 days of Antibiotics, But I Feel Better After Two. Can I Stop Taking Them?

Taking the full course of antibiotics for strep throat is important for 2 reasons:
  1. Antibiotics are used to prevent complications of rheumatic fever, which can develop a few months after strep throat. If you don’t take all of your antibiotics as prescribed, you may increase your risk of developing this disease.

  2. Failure to complete your prescription of antibiotics can lead to superbugs, which are harder to treat and can potentially lead to life-threatening infections.

Sources:

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. pp. 332-338.

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

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

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