Although many people use the terms sore throat, strep throat and tonsillitis interchangeably, these three conditions have significant differences. Knowing what is strep throat can give you a better idea of when to be concerned and seek medical advice from a doctor. Streptococcal pharyngitis, or strep throat, is a type of pharyngitis that affects the tonsils, pharynx and sometime the larynx. This contagious infection is caused by a group A streptococcal bacteria and is responsible for 5-15% of sore throats in adults and 37% among children. Strep throat is spread through contact with an infected individual or objects.
The most common symptoms include a fever greater that 100°F (38 °C), enlarged cervical lymph nodes, a sudden sore throat and white spots on the tonsils. Other symptoms are nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and muscle pain. In very rare cases, an infected person can develop a scarlatiniform rash or palatal petechiae. If you experience symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, red eyes and mouth ulcers and you don’t have a fever, strep throat is unlikely. Usually the manifestations of this disease start one of three day after contact.
In order to fully understand what is strep throat, you must be aware of its cause. In most cases, strep throat is caused by GAS or S. pyogenes, A beta-hemolytic streptococcus, although it can be caused by other bacteria such as fusobacterium or non–group A beta-hemolytic streptococci. The dried bacteria found in dust is not contagious, but the moist bacteria found on toothbrushes and other personal items can be sources of infection for up to fifteen days. In rare cases, outbreaks are caused by contaminated food.
The Centor criteria can be used to identify the likelihood of a strep throat infection. However, it is important to seek advice from a doctor who knows what is strep throat and how to manage it. The test is based on 5 clinical criteria. If present, each of the following criteria receives one point:
- Swollen and tender cervical lymph nodes
- Tonsillar exudate or swelling
- Temperature higher than 100.4 °F (38.0 °C)
- Absence of a cough
- Age >44 subtract 1 point
- Age <15 add 1 point
For 0 or 1 point, no antibiotic or throat culture is necessary. If the score is 2 or 3 points, the patient should receive a throat culture and antibiotics if it is positive. For 4 or 5 points, treat with an empiric antibiotic. If all the variables are present, there is a 40-6-% chance for a culture to test positive.
Because strep throat is highly contagious, it is important to limit contact with an infected person and avoid crowded placed during outbreaks. If you are near a person that is sneezing or coughing, cover your mouth as well. Another great prevention method is to fortify your body’s immune system by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Make sure you wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water and disinfect contaminated objects. For those with frequent strep throat, tonsillectomy may be an efficient prevention method.