Thousands of strep throat cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While it is more common in children, people of all ages may come down with strep throat.
“Viruses are the cause of most sore throats,” said Christopher Weirtz, D.O., a pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton. “People generally can recover from a viral sore throat relatively easily with rest, home remedies and over-the-counter medications. Strep throat, however, is caused by a bacterium – group A Streptococcus – and tends to cause a more serious sore throat and also is highly contagious.”
A medical diagnosis, typically a throat swab, is needed to confirm strep throat.
“A rapid strep test will often confirm the patient has strep throat, but sometimes we need to do a longer throat culture to determine if Streptococcus is present,” Dr. Weirtz explained.
Strep throat is typically spread through respiratory droplets but also through contact with secretions such as saliva, or by touching a surface contaminated by the bacterium, such as a doorknob, and then touching your nose and eyes.
“Strep throat is most common in the winter and spring when people are in close contact while indoors,” Dr. Weirtz said. “Once school starts, we tend to see an uptick in the number of cases of strep throat. It typically takes two to five days after exposure for someone to become sick with strep throat.”
According to Mayo Clinic, the most common symptoms of strep throat are:
- Throat pain that comes on quickly
- Painful swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes accompanied by white patches, or red spots on the back of the roof of the mouth
- Swollen, tender lymph nodes in the neck
- Fever (>100.4F)
- Nausea and vomiting, especially in younger children
- Body aches
“A sore throat that’s accompanied by a cough, runny nose, and hoarseness typically isn’t strep throat,” Dr. Weirtz said.
He suggested it is time to see a doctor when a sore throat:
- Is accompanied by swollen lymph glands.
- Lasts longer than 72 hours
- Is accompanied by a fever (>100.4F) and/or a rash.
- Is accompanied with problems breathing or swallowing.
“Once strep throat is diagnosed and treated with an antibiotic, the patient should begin to feel better within 48-72 hours,” said Dr. Weirtz. “If they don’t, it’s a good idea to check back with your provider.”
Dr. Weirtz also noted, the concern with strep throat versus a viral sore throat is that strep throat can advance into more serious disease, such as scarlet or rheumatic fever, cause inflammation of the kidneys or heart valve damage. Untreated, strep throat can also cause infection to spread to the tonsils, sinuses, skin, blood and middle ear.
To help avoid getting strep throat, health experts recommend:
- Wash your hands routinely with soap and water for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitizer, especially after coughing or sneezing and before preparing food or eating.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. It’s important to teach your kids to sneeze into their elbow or a tissue and then discard the tissue immediately.
- Don’t share drinking glasses or eating utensils.
- Wash dishes in hot, soapy water or in a dishwasher.
“Once strep throat is diagnosed, the patient should stay home from work, school, daycare or social gatherings until they’ve been on an antibiotic for at least 12 hours and no longer have a fever,” Dr. Weirtz said. “It’s important to finish the full round of antibiotics prescribed. Don’t stop taking the medication once you’re feeling better. That can cause the infection to rebound.”
Making Care More Convenient
ThedaCare teams are committed to providing immediate care to patients and families who need it most. For immediate, non-emergency concerns, particularly those involving young children and older adults, you may also visit a ThedaCare walk-in or urgent care location without making an appointment or talk to a provider from the comfort of your own home through the eVisit or Video Visit services.
ThedaCare walk-in and urgent care services provide convenient access to treatment and diagnostic testing for a variety of minor injuries and conditions, including services like screenings, x-rays, ultrasounds, lab work and limited immunizations. Care is available for new and existing patients, as well as children 12 months or older. For more information, visit thedacare.org/get-care-now/.
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.