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Have These Symptoms? It May Be Strep Throat

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woman running her throat

Here's how to tell if your sore throat may be caused by group A strep bacteria.

Feeling sick and have a sore throat? Wondering if it's just one of the many viruses circulating through the community or if you might have strep throat? The only way to know for sure if you have strep throat is to get a quick test at the doctor's office. But these symptoms may be a sign that you should get tested.

Signs of Strep Throat

Strep throat may not feel much different than having a sore throat that accompanies any type of common virus, like the cold, flu or COVID-19. But it can also feel a lot worse and be very painful. Here are common symptoms of this condition:

  • A sore throat that starts very quickly
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils
  • Small white patches on the tonsils
  • Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Fever

You may also have other symptoms, including a headache, stomach pain, nausea or vomiting. However, strep throat does not cause a cough, runny nose or hoarseness. If you have these symptoms accompanying your sore throat, it is more likely that a virus is causing your illness and not strep throat.

Causes of Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection and is not caused by a virus. It is caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus and is very contagious. This bacteria can be spread from person to person by coming in contact with respiratory droplets (by coughing, sneezing or talking) or directly touching infected sores on the skin of someone with impetigo, which is also caused by group A strep bacteria. It typically takes 2 – 5 days to become sick after being exposed to group A strep bacteria.

Risk Factors for Strep Throat

Anyone can get strep throat but there are a few things that may increase your risk. These include:

  • Age – School-aged children ages 5 – 15 are more likely to get strep than adults or younger children. Adults are more at risk if they are parents of school-aged children or are often in contact with children.
  • Location – You or your child are more likely to get strep if you spend time in group settings, where close contact is more common. This includes schools, daycare settings and military training facilities. You're also more likely to get strep throat if you live with someone who has the illness.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Strep Throat

If a doctor thinks you have strep throat after hearing about your symptoms and doing a physical exam, he or she will likely test for strep. This is a quick test that involves swabbing your throat to see if the group A strep bacteria is present. If the test is positive, antibiotics are prescribed to treat the infection. You should start feeling better in a day or two after beginning the antibiotics. But even if you start to feel better, the entire course of antibiotics should be taken as prescribed to prevent a recurrence of the infection.

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Date Last Reviewed: December 19, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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