What is Strep Throat?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
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  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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Strep throat is a common illness, especially in children. Its symptoms usually include a very sore throat, stomach pain in the lower abdomen, and high fever. The neck glands may also be swollen, and a person may feel ill, weak, and/or achy. The infection itself signifies the presence of large amounts of strep bacteria in the throat and needs to be treated with antibiotics in order to be cured.

Though common today and easily treated, strep throat was once one of the most devastating illnesses a person could get. It frequently progressed to either rheumatic or scarlet fever, which could cause lengthy illness, damage to the heart and even death. Until the discovery of antibiotics, the condition remained complicated and difficult to treat, and like pneumonia was indicated in a number of childhood deaths.

The ability to treat strep with antibiotics is often ignored, and people may adopt a wait and see approach to treating the condition. This is definitely not advised. If a person has a sore throat, high fever, and stomach pain or stomach upset that persists for more than a day, he or she should see a healthcare professional. If the streptococcus bacteria are responsible for the infection the condition will not get better on its own.


The test for strep throat is a fairly simple one. Until recently, doctors had to take a swab from the back of the throat and wait 24-48 hours to detect the presence of thriving strep cells. Today, most physicians have rapid strep diagnosis, which allows a patient to get a diagnosis in about five minutes. When strep is present, antibiotic treatment can begin immediately.

People with this condition usually begin to feel better after a few days of treatment, but it’s important to finish all antibiotics prescribed. Failing to finish the prescribed amount can cause the bacteria to reassert itself, resulting in symptoms emerging again. Occasionally, one form of antibiotic does not adequately kill strep. If symptoms disappear and then reappear a few days later, it’s important to check with a physician about possibly changing to a different antibiotic medication.

Strep throat is most common among children and teens, and most contagious when the greatest number of symptoms present. A person with strep, even on antibiotic treatment can remain contagious for up to 21 days. Normally, the infected person, when not symptomatic, can protect others by not sharing food and observing good handwashing hygiene. Risk of contagion to others decreases sharply after a person’s symptoms have disappeared and he or she has been on antibiotics for a couple of days.

For parents, strep in a child should mean keeping the child at home from daycare, preschool or regular school until a few days after antibiotic treatment has begun and symptoms have cleared. Continued presence of symptoms means greater likelihood of passing the illness to other children. Sometimes children will also have cold or viral symptoms concurrently with strep throat, which makes them more contagious to others. In general, following a doctor’s advice on when a child should return to school is good practice.

Not all fevers and sore throats mean you or your child have strep throat. Lots of viral infections include sore throats and fevers. When this fever persists beyond a day or two, strep may be a possible cause. Fortunately, it has never been easier to diagnose this condition than it is today.


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Discuss this Article

Post 6

Its a good thing we have antibiotics or both my children and myself would have been dead by now, according to the old days. I have gotten it so severely that my entire mouth was full of blisters. -- Lola

Post 5

If you have continuous strep you should see an ENT. Mine didn't go away until I had my tonsils out.

Post 4

One thing that is important to watch out for with strep throat is a strep throat with a rash. Also called a strep rash, this can be a sign of scarlet fever, especially in young children.

If your young child has a strep throat with a rash, a very high fever, chills, and patchy white, yellow, or grey spots on their tonsils, you should take them to the doctor immediately.

Scarlet fever can have very serious effects, especially if it is not treated promptly -- the fever alone is a danger.

So although you shouldn't panic every time your child gets a sore throat, it is very important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of scarlet fever, and to be able to differentiate normal strep throat from the more serious scarlet fever.

Post 3

Is the strep throat treatment for adults different from the strep throat treatment for children? And is strep throat contagious between children and adults?

My niece has a chronic strep throat, and I'd like to know if her strep throat complications could be passed on to me when I babysit her.

Does anybody know?

Post 2

When I was about 10 I got a very severe strep throat while staying with my grandmother. My parents were on vacation, so all I remember is being so miserable having to go to a strange doctor to see if I had strep throat or a tonsils problem, and I still remember it hurting so badly when they took the swab. To this day, I'm sure my grandmother remembers that strep throat infection -- and I know my parents were glad they missed out, I was a bear to take care of!

Post 1

Has anyone else experienced constant strep throat for month or years where antibiotics don't work. In my case the culture would show Strep A and then Strep B and then Strep A again and the hospital would take a sensitivity test each time and a different antibiotic would work (in the lab) each time. Long story here and would love to hear from others who have experience this or have had loved ones who have.

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