Streptococcal sore throat, streptococcal tonsillitis or streptococcal pharyngitis is a contagious infection spread through close contact with someone who is already infected. This type of pharyngitis is caused by a group A streptococcal infection and it affects the pharynx, tonsils and larynx. Streptococcal pharyngitis is responsible for 5-15% of sore throats among adults and 37% in children. The first symptom of strep throat is a sore throat followed by fever and enlargement of lymph nodes.
If you are not sure you have a symptom of strep throat, a definitive diagnosis can be made based on the results of a throat culture. Usually this is not needed because the diagnosis can be made after identifying other symptoms. In confirmed or highly likely cases, antibiotics are used to speed recovery and prevent complications.
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Although strep throat is cause by group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus (GAS), other bacteria can also cause it, such as non–group A beta-hemolytic streptococci or fusobacterium. Because it is spread by direct contact, crowded areas such as schools or the military can increase the rate of transmission. Despite the fact that dried bacteria found in dust cannot contaminate a person, moist bacteria found on items like toothbrushes can survive for fifteen days. If food is contaminated, the chances of an outbreak increase. Moreover, a child that does not have any symptom of strep throat can carry GAS in their pharynx and remain a carrier after treatment.
Although the most common symptom of strep throat is a sore throat, this disease is often accompanied by a fever greater than 38 °C, large cervical lymph nodes and pus on the tonsils. An infected individual can experience nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, muscle pain, a scarlatiniform rash or palatal petechiae, and headache. If the symptoms are red eyes, mouth ulcers, hoarseness and a runny nose, than a strep throat infection is unlikely. The incubation period is between one or three days after the contact. This is the period when the following symptoms can appear:
- Pain or difficulty when swallowing
- High fever over 38 °C and chills. A lower fever is not a symptom of strep throat.
- Sudden and severe sore throat without the common cold symptoms (coughing and sneezing).
- Swollen tonsils.
- Swollen lymph nodes (in the neck area).
- Dark red spots on the roof of the mouth and a bright red throat.
- General ill feeling.
- Loss of appetite.
Sometimes mononucleosis has similar symptoms to those of strep throat and can cause a severe sore throat. If you are sneezing, coughing and have a runny nose, you probably have a cold and not strep throat. This infection usually goes away in 7 days with or without antibiotics. However, if you are not treated with antibiotics you will remain contagious for 2 to 3 weeks.