Strep gets its name from the bacterium that causes the infection 'Streptococcus'. Strep throat is a contagious bacterial Group A streptococcal infection which affects the pharynx. Although anyone can get affected, it is almost always seen in children and adolescents between ages 5 to 15. This infection is not so common in adults.
How Does Streptococcal Pharyngitis Spread?
The streptococcal bacterium is found in the nose or throat of the infected person, and is spread through the air whenever the person coughs or sneezes. It is spread more easily in crowded rooms such as in classrooms or dormitories. If left untreated, the infected person can spread the bacteria for up to 3 weeks. Once treated with antibiotics, the spread of the bacteria stops within 24 hours. In rare instances, milk and milk products are known to have spread the streptococcal bacteria.
Following are some of the symptoms that are observed:
- Swollen bright red throat
- Dark red spots on the back of the throat
- Very sore throat
- Sudden high fever
- Tender, swollen lymph nodes
- Pus on the tonsils
- Grayish or whitish coating of the tonsils
- Body pain
- Pain while swallowing
- Appetite loss
- Skin rash (scarlet fever)
The following symptoms when combined with one or more of the aforementioned symptoms could also be associated with streptococcal pharyngitis:
- Nasal congestion or discharge
- Neck pain
- Muscle pain
- Stiff joints
- Dull feeling
In most people, the symptoms are few and mild. If not treated when symptoms are recognized, it could get worse and the bacteria could produce toxins leading to a high fever accompanied by skin rash (scarlet fever).
It is not as easy to detect a strep throat as is to detect a sore throat (pharyngitis) or general cold. Sore throats are usually caused by a viral infection. A general cold is accompanied by symptoms such as a runny or stuffy nose, excessive sneezing, and coughing; all of these symptoms, if not associated with one or more of the main symptoms, should not be linked with a strep throat.
Visit your physician as soon as you notice any of the symptoms of the infection. The physician will conduct a physical examination of your throat and if streptococcal pharyngitis is suspected, a rapid strep test will be performed. This is usually sufficient for the physician to be sure of the bacterial presence, but if the test is not conclusive, a throat culture could be done. Throat culture results take time. Therefore, if your physician suspects strep throat based on physical examination and the symptoms, medication could be started immediately.
A rapid strep test requires the physician to collect cells from the back of your throat on a cotton swab and test it right away. The entire process takes approximately 15 minutes. The problem with this test is that it is not always accurate. If the results are positive, the physician will start you on antibiotics immediately. If the results are negative, and the symptoms and physical examination points towards streptococcal pharyngitis, the physician will send for a throat culture, but will start you on medication immediately.
A throat culture requires cells from the back of your throat to be collected on a cotton swab and placed in a container that promotes the growth of the strep bacteria. If the bacteria are present, they will multiply, making the result positive. If not present, the result will be negative, and the physician can check for other causes to the disease.
When the infection is diagnosed and antibiotics prescribed, you must finish the entire course as prescribed. You will feel better after a couple of days of medication, but if you stop the medication, the bacteria will reappear and multiply, making treatment more difficult. If you have gone through the entire antibiotic course, the bacteria will be totally destroyed and no further tests should be needed.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only. Always consult a physician before starting any physical fitness program in order to reduce the risk of injury.