Boy getting throat swab

Strep Throat or Sore Throat?

Not all sore throats are strep throat—strep is a bacterial infection. The sore throat that often accompanies a common cold is viral and, while contagious, doesn’t require a prescription and generally runs its course.

Although strep commonly affects children, anyone can get it and, if left untreated, it can be more serious than you might think.

Strep throat comes on quickly with symptoms including painful swallowing, swollen tonsils or lymph nodes in the neck, fever, headache, and more. Call the doctor if these or other symptoms appear. Viral infections can also mimic strep, so only a throat swab test by your physician can rule out other causes to pinpoint and diagnose strep.

Treating strep throat with an antibiotic reduces the risk of other complications, which could be severe. Complications include infections of the tonsils, sinus, skin, blood, or middle ear. Inflammatory illnesses include scarlet fever, inflamed kidneys, rheumatic fever, or an arthritic condition that affects the joints.

Because strep throat is contagious, it is easily spread when someone coughs or sneezes or shares food or drink. Strep germs can also live on surfaces that, when touched, can be transferred to the mouth, nose, or eyes.

As we’ve become more familiar with how to control infections during the pandemic, ways to help prevent strep are familiar ones: wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, use sanitizer if no soap/water is available, cough into an elbow or tissue, and don’t share food, glasses, or utensils when eating. Wearing a mask is also beneficial.

If you suspect you or your child have strep, make an appointment to see your physician.

Runny or stuffy nose too? What does all of that snot mean? Icky — but keep reading.