Strep Throat

Overview

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Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can make your throat feel sore and scratchy. Strep throat accounts for only a small portion of sore throats.

If untreated, strep throat can cause complications, such as kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can lead to painful and inflamed joints, a specific type of rash, or heart valve damage.

Strep throat is most common in children, but it affects people of all ages. If you or your child has signs or symptoms of strep throat, see your doctor for prompt testing and treatment.

Symptoms

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Signs and symptoms of strep throat can include:

  • Throat pain that usually comes on quickly
  • Painful swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus
  • Tiny red spots on the area at the back of the roof of the mouth (soft or hard palate)
  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes in your neck
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Nausea or vomiting, especially in younger children
  • Body aches

It’s possible for you or your child to have many of these signs and symptoms but not have strep throat. The cause of these signs and symptoms could be a viral infection or some other illness. That’s why your doctor generally tests specifically for strep throat.

It’s also possible for you to be exposed to a person who carries strep but shows no symptoms.

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor if you or your child has any of these signs and symptoms:

  • A sore throat accompanied by tender, swollen lymph glands
  • A sore throat that lasts longer than 48 hours
  • A fever
  • A sore throat accompanied by a rash
  • Problems breathing or swallowing
  • If strep has been diagnosed, a lack of improvement after taking antibiotics for 48 hours

Causes

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The cause of strep throat is bacteria known as Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A streptococcus.

Streptococcal bacteria are highly contagious. They can spread through airborne droplets when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes, or through shared food or drinks. You can also pick up the bacteria from a doorknob or other surface and transfer them to your nose, mouth or eyes.

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