Strep throat is a bacterial infection in the throat and the tonsils. The throat gets irritated and inflamed, causing a sudden, severe sore throat.
Strep throat is caused by streptococcal (strep) bacteria. There are many different types of strep bacteria. Some cause more serious illness than others.
Although some people are quick to think that any painful sore throat is strep, sore throats are usually caused by a viral infection and not strep bacteria. A sore throat caused by a virus can be just as painful as strep throat. But if you have cold symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, or a runny or stuffy nose, you probably do not have strep throat.
Symptoms of strep throat are:
Less common symptoms are a red skin rash, vomiting, not feeling hungry, and body aches.
Strep throat can be passed from person to person. When a person who has strep throat breathes, coughs, or sneezes, tiny droplets with the strep bacteria go into the air. These droplets can be breathed in by other people. If you come into contact with strep, it will take 2 to 5 days before you start to have symptoms.
To avoid getting strep throat, it is a good idea to avoid contact with anyone who has a strep infection. If you are around someone who has strep, wash your hands often. Don't drink from the same glass or use the same eating utensils, and don't share toothbrushes. Bacteria can live for a short time on doorknobs, water faucets, and other objects. It’s a good idea to wash your hands regularly.
Strep throat will go away in 3 to 7 days with or without treatment. Doctors usually treat strep throat with antibiotics even though they may not make you well faster. Antibiotics shorten the time you are contagious and lower the risk of spreading the infection to other parts of your body.
You are contagious while you still have symptoms. Most people stop being contagious 24 hours after they start antibiotics. If you don't take antibiotics, you may be contagious for 2 to 3 weeks, even if your symptoms go away.
Your doctor may also advise you to take an over-the-counter medicine like acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) to help with pain and lower your fever.
If you have a strep infection, there are things you can do to avoid spreading it to others.