Is Strep Throat Contagious?

in Screening Sore Throat

We all know the feeling of waking up to the unwelcome sting of a sudden sore throat. Soon your day may be punctuated with sneezes, and a runny nose may follow. 

The question is, do you just have a bout of the common cold, or have you picked up something more serious? It may be hard to tell from your initial symptoms, but it’s possible you have acquired a bacterial infection caused by the group A streptococcus bacteria. 

Symptoms of Strep Throat

Some symptoms of a strep bacteria infection (also known as acute strep pharyngitis) are similar to other upper respiratory infections. For this reason it is not uncommon for streptococcal infections to go undiagnosed. There are some telltale signs, though, and if you spot them, you should definitely talk to your doctor. 

The most readily identifiable symptoms of strep throat include the following:

  • an intense sore throat that begins rapidly
  • fever higher than 101°F (38.3°C)
  • intense pain while swallowing
  • body aches
  • vomiting or nausea
  • headache

Other symptoms that may indicate a streptococcus bacterial infection may be more difficult to spot at home, but will be easy for a medical professional to identify. These include:

  • small red spots visible on the roof of the mouth
  • red, swollen tonsils
  • white spots or streaks of pus on the tonsils
  • swelling in the lymph nodes in your neck
  • skin rash (scarlet fever)

Is Strep Throat Contagious?

The simple answer to whether strep throat is contagious is an emphatic "yes." Strep throat is a highly contagious bacterial infection, and many people will contract this illness at some point in their lives. The highly contagious nature of this infection means that, even if you are careful, it is likely you may catch strep from a family member who has become infected. 

School-age children tend to be some of the most effective spreaders of this infection. The close contact children have with one another in schools and daycare facilities mean that up to 30% of kids who complain of a sore throat may actually have a strep throat infection. 

One of the reasons group A streptococcus infections spread so widely is how long you can remain infectious if you do not seek treatment. If you are prescribed antibiotics by your doctor, you will typically stop being contagious after 24 hours. If you are not treated, however, you are likely to remain contagious for up to two or three weeks. You may not be experiencing symptoms during this time, but you could still be transmitting the infection to other people. 

Unlike some other infections, you can catch strep multiple times. This means that even if you have been infected before, your body does not develop immunity the way you do to other illnesses. As a result, it is possible to continue contracting, and spreading, acute strep pharyngitis infections. 

Treatment for Strep Throat

While the common cold or a bout of the flu is usually no reason to head to the doctor, strep is a different story. There can be serious complications if a strep infection is left untreated. For this reason, if you suspect you have an infection, you should talk to your healthcare provider. If your doctor thinks your symptoms are concerning, he or she will order a throat culture obtained during a simple, rapid strep test that can confirm the presence of a strep throat infection. 

If it turns out you do need treatment, common antibiotics are usually prescribed. Amoxicillin is one of the most common drugs prescribed to treat strep. If you are prescribed amoxicillin, your doctor will probably remind you to take the entire course of antibiotics even if your symptoms disappear in the first few days.

If you are continually contracting strep throat, it is possible your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your tonsils in an attempt to prevent recurring infection. This procedure, called a tonsillectomy, is rarely performed on adults, but can be recommended in cases where a child is found to be contracting strep multiple times in a year. 

Antibiotic treatment may be the only way to quickly kill off the strep bacteria that is making you miserable, but there are other over-the-counter remedies that can help ease the pain and discomfort of your symptoms. These include taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help ease body aches and pain in the throat. Gargling with warm salt water is also thought to reduce the pain associated with swallowing.

How to Avoid Strep Throat

There are very few bright spots to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, but one of them is that the very recommendations The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus are the same recommendations that help lower your chances of contracting strep throat. 

Washing your hands thoroughly or using hand sanitizer when you have touched surfaces such as door knobs that other infected people may have touched is a great way to lower your chances of infection. Maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask, and limiting the number of people you come in close contact with will also help reduce the likelihood you will catch strep. With many daycare centers closed and large gatherings limited, the chances of strep or other viral infection spreading drop even further.

In addition to washing your hands frequently, other common sense prevention tips can be easily undertaken. Toothbrushes are a common way infections spread, so ensuring you are not sharing your toothbrush with anyone, and even keeping toothbrushes well separated in the bathroom, will help reduce your chances of infection. 

Get Treatment Quickly 

Getting treatment for a strep infection is not just about easing your own symptoms, though the pain in your throat is usually a compelling reason to start a course of antibiotic treatment right away. Treating your infection as soon as possible will help reduce the likelihood of other family members or people you come into close contact with from becoming ill. 

There is an even more compelling reason not to ignore your strep infection. Left untreated, a streptococcal infection can potentially lead to a dangerous condition known as rheumatic fever. This condition can cause disruptions to your normal heart rhythm, affect your nervous system, and even cause outbursts of inappropriate laughter or crying. Streptococcal infections can also release toxins into your body that can lead to liver damage. 

The most important thing to know is that getting tested and treated for strep throat infections is very simple. At TrustCare, we provide rapid testing at all of our walk-in clinics to help you know as quickly as possible whether the soreness in your throat is caused by something more serious. If you think you may be experiencing the symptoms of strep throat, visit one of our many clinic locations today.

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