One of the most common bacterial infections of the throat is Strep Throat. It is caused by a type of bacteria known as Group A Streptococcus bacteria. It is commonly found in children between age 5 and 15, although anyone can get it.
Strep throat is spread by contact or through the nasal secretions or saliva. Most often it spreads among family or household members.
The symptoms can be either mild or severe. One usually starts feeling sick about 2 to 5 days after coming in contact with the bacteria. But most of the times these symptoms begin suddenly, and can include:
- Fever that begins suddenly and is often highest on the second day
- Red throat, sometimes with white patches
- Sore throat
- General ill feeling
- Loss of appetite and abnormal taste
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
Some types of strep throat also result in a scarlet fever-like rash. According experts this rash is an allergic reaction to toxins produced by the strep bacteria.
A simple and quick test, known as the rapid strep test, can be done in the local health care provider offices, but it is not always accurate and may miss out in a few of the cases.
If the rapid strep test is negative and your health care provider still has a doubt that a person is suffering from strep, a throat swab can be tested (cultured) to see if strep grows from it. However, the reports of this test take one to two days.
Though most sore throats are caused by viruses but strep-throat is caused by bacteria. For the diagnosis of Strep we cannot go by symptoms or a physical exam alone as many of the other causes of sore throats may have the same symptoms.
Sore throats should only be treated with antibiotics if the strep test is positive. The reason for taking antibiotics is to prevent rare but more serious health problems, such as rheumatic fever. Also the patient should take the Antibiotics for 10 days, even though symptoms are usually gone after few days.
Some tips to make the sore throat feel better:
- Drink warm liquids such as lemon tea or tea with honey.
- Gargle several times a day with warm salt water (1/2 tsp of salt in 1 cup water).
- Drink cold liquids or suck on popsicles.
- Suck on hard candies or throat lozenges. Young children should not be given such products because they can choke on them.
- A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can moisten and soothe a dry and painful throat.
- Try over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen.