Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2001;63(8):1565-1566

What is strep throat? What are the signs of strep throat?

Strep throat is an infection caused by bacteria.

Adults with strep throat may have a sore throat, a fever and swollen neck glands. They usually don't have a cough or a runny nose.

Children with strep throat have a sore throat and may have tummy pain or a red rash with small spots. The rash is worse under the arms and in skin creases.

How is strep throat treated?

Your doctor may give you or your child an antibiotic. This medicine can help the sore throat go away a little faster. It can also help prevent a few rare but serious conditions that people with strep throat might get. It is important to take all of the medicine your doctor gives you.

Should all sore throats be treated with antibiotics?

No. Not every sore throat is strep throat. Bacteria only cause about 5 to 10 percent of sore throats. The rest are caused by viruses or other problems, and antibiotics will not help. Your doctor can do a test to make sure it is strep throat.

What tests can tell I have strep throat?

Your doctor may use a test called the rapid strep test. For this test, the doctor uses a long cotton swab to take some material from the back of your throat. The results of this test can be ready in about 15 minutes.

Your doctor may also do a culture of the throat material. A sample of the throat material is sent to a laboratory. This test is called a throat culture. It takes more than 24 hours to learn the results of a strep culture.

The rapid strep test and the culture can tell your doctor if you have strep throat. If something else is causing your sore throat, these tests do not tell what it is.

Can other people catch my strep throat?

Yes. You can give the infection to other people until you have been treated with an antibiotic for 1 to 3 days. Children with strep throat should not go back to school or day care until their fever has gone away and they have taken an antibiotic for at least 24 hours.

What can make my sore throat feel better?

Here are some things that might help:

  • Ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin, Nuprin) or acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol). Children should not take aspirin.

  • Gargling with warm salt water (¼ teaspoon of salt in 1 cup [8 ounces] of warm water)

  • For adults and older children, sucking on throat lozenges, hard candy or pieces of ice

  • Soft foods, cool drinks or warm liquids, or popsicles

Can people get strep throat from their pets?

This could happen, but it is very rare.

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