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How You Get Strep Throat

Updated on October 26, 2017
Laboratory strep test
Laboratory strep test

How do you get strep throat?

Strep throat is contagious and is commonly spread between people from nasal secretions or saliva from sneezing and coughing. Usually this is in the form of respiratory droplets that are transmitted through the air. Also, strep can be spread from shaking hands or sharing food and drinks, but transmission from these methods is less common. Transmission of strep throat is common where people are in tight living, work, or social situations. Examples of these situations are households, college dormitories and campuses, concerts, military barracks, schools and child care centers, and hospitals. It isn't uncommon for strep to spread amongst people in close quarters.

Have you had strep throat before?

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What is strep throat?

Strep throat is a contagious bacterial infection caused by streptococcal bacteria. Some of the symptoms of strep throat include sore throat, fever, enlarged and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, headaches, difficulty swallowing, and swelling of the tonsils and throat. Additionally, yellow or white patches (of pus) may appear on the tonsils. The symptoms from strep throat may vary from mild to severe.

This type of bacterial infection appears most commonly in children. People of all age groups can get strep throat, however. Strep throat occurs at the highest rate in the age group of 5 to 15 years of age. Adults are less likely to contract strep throat than children. The most common times to contract strep throat are between fall and spring.

Examining sore throat
Examining sore throat

How strep throat is diagnosed

A medical professional will attempt to rule out a viral infection when diagnosing the sore throat. A viral infection would typically include a runny nose or cough. Lab tests can be used to determine if the cause of the sore throat is from streptococcal bacteria. This can be done with a rapid strep test. In this test, the back of the throat and tonsils are swabbed. Most health care providers are able to test the swab for the presence of streptococcal bacteria within minutes. The diagnosis of strep throat is confirmed if the swab tests positive. If it tests negative, it does not necessarily mean that the patient does not have strep throat. These tests often fail to detect streptococcal bacteria even when it is present.

A throat culture can be taken to be submitted to a lab for testing. This throat culture is obtained by swabbing the tonsils and throat, just as the rapid test is performed. Results from this form of testing are usually available within one to two days. The throat culture is more reliable than the rapid test and is considered the standard for testing for strep throat.

How to treat strep throat

Strep is often resolved within a few days if it is left untreated. The usage of antibiotics decreases the duration of strep throat, usually by about one day. Antibiotics are used to make the infected individual less contagious within 24 hours. Perhaps most importantly, antibiotics are used to help reduce the risk of related complications of strep throat. Penicillin and amoxicillin are common antibiotics that are used to treat strep throat.

Self- treatment is sometimes sufficient for dealing with the discomfort of strep throat. It is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Fluid intake may be decreased because of difficulty swallowing, so it is important to make an effort to stay hydrated. Warm soups such as chicken noodle soup can help replace salt and water in the body. Cold beverages may soothe the throat and offer some relief from the pain.

Throat lozenges may offer a small amount of relief in the more mild occurrences of strep throat. Over the counter pain medications containing acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help reduce and control fever and also help relieve pain. Controlling the pain of the sore throat may be helpful in staying hydrated by being able to comfortably drink more fluids. Other home remedies such as gargling warm water with salt, drinking herbal teas, and taking honey may be helpful for controlling strep symptoms as well.

Preventing the spread of strep throat

There is no vaccine available to prevent the spreading of strep throat. It is important to keep drinking glasses, dishes, and eating utensils separate from a person that is infected with strep throat so that the bacteria is not transmitted this way. Food and drinks should not be shared with an infected person. Towels and napkins should not be shared as well. When coughing or sneezing, it is very important that an infected person covers their nose and mouth to prevent creating airborne droplets that contain streptococcal bacteria. Routine washing of hands is an important step to prevent the transmission of the bacteria, and should be done by the uninfected and infected person.


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    • onthegrind profile image

      onthegrind 5 years ago from Florida, United States

      You're lucky to have not contracted it, formosangirl! Especially in tight quarters. Thanks for the comment.

    • formosangirl profile image

      formosangirl 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      On the Grind, this is interesting. I recall a roommate having strep throat, and we were in a tiny room. It was freshman year, and I was scared of catching it.

    • onthegrind profile image

      onthegrind 5 years ago from Florida, United States

      Thanks for the comment, ytsenoh. You're probably right about the picture. Overall, I think it's good for people to see if they are wondering about strep, even if it is pretty disgusting.

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Thumbs up even though I thought your first image was a bit alarming--it gave the reader what they need to know about what strep throat looks like. I thought your hub was well written and organized and certainly proves to be informative. Thank you.