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What Is a Strep Swab?

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  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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A strep swab is a medical diagnostic test that uses a sterile cotton applicator to swab the throat for a sample of secretions. The sample is then examined microscopically to look for the streptococcus bacteria that causes strep throat. There are two different types of strep swabs. One type is known as the rapid strep test, in which results are available in approximately 15 minutes. The second test is the throat culture, which is performed similarly, though it is considered more accurate, and may take two days to show results.

The rapid strep swab test for strep throat is valuable because it allows the health care provider to diagnose strep throat quickly, and therefore, implement treatment fast. Symptoms of strep throat include a red, sore throat, tonsil inflammation, and sometimes, white spots or pus pockets in the crypts of the tonsils. In addition, fever, difficulty swallowing, headache, and rash can appear. Frequently, loss of appetite, vomiting, chills, and upset stomach occur as well.

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When the strep swab reveals the presence of strep, the health care provider generally prescribes antibiotics. Since strep is bacterial in nature, and not viral, antibiotics will be effective in eradicating the infection. In addition to using antibiotics, drinking plenty of fluids, and resting can help the patient feel better. Staying hydrated is important because fever, diarrhea, and vomiting can deplete fluids and cause dehydration. Antibiotics sometimes cause diarrhea, so replacing fluids with water or an electrolyte-containing drink will help the patient feel better.

Taking an over-the-counter pain and fever reducer will also help relieve sore throat and body aches and reduce fever. It is important to note that children under the age of 18 should never take aspirin because it can put them at risk for a serious medical condition known as Reyes Syndrome, which can attack the brain and other organs. Alternatives to aspirin include ibuprofen and acetaminophen, however, these medications should be discussed with the health care provider before a child takes them.

After the strep swab comes back positive, and antibiotics have been prescribed, the patient or his caregiver will generally be instructed on the importance of taking the antibiotics for the full recommended course. Failure to finish the antibiotics may result in the return of the strep throat and might even promote antibiotic resistance. Although strep throat cannot always be prevented, practicing good hygiene, such as washing the hands thoroughly and not sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils, might prevent an infection.

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