What Is Streptococcal Pharyngitis?

L. Whitaker

Streptococcal pharyngitis is the medical term for the throat infection colloquially known as strep throat. It is a common infection typically seen in children and adolescents during the school year when individuals are in close contact. Streptococcal pharyngitis is caused by the Group A streptococcus bacteria, also known as Streptococcus pyogenes, which is spread through infected saliva or nasal mucus. This transmission can occur via droplets in the air or by touching one's face or mouth after contact with an infected surface, such as a person's skin or hard surfaces like doorknobs. The infected person begins to show symptoms within five days of contracting the bacteria.

Fever and fatigue are two common symptoms of strep pharyngitis.
Fever and fatigue are two common symptoms of strep pharyngitis.

Symptoms of streptococcal pharyngitis can range from mild to severe. Signs of infection include the sudden onset of a fever higher than 101 degrees F (38.3 degrees C) and an inflamed throat. Individuals with this infection could also experience nausea, chills, headache, loss of appetite, and visible redness or white patches on the throat. They might also have fatigue, neck lymph nodes that are swollen, and trouble swallowing. The presence of typical cold symptoms like sneezing, coughing, or nasal congestion can indicate that strep throat is not an appropriate diagnosis.

Strep throat can cause swollen lymph nodes.
Strep throat can cause swollen lymph nodes.

Streptococcal pharyngitis must be diagnosed by a throat culture or a rapid culture done in the doctor's office. If the culture is positive, the doctor will treat the individual with a course of antibiotics to prevent serious complications. After the infection is treated with an initial dose of antibiotic medication, the patient will most likely begin to experience relief of symptoms within 48 hours. He or she should avoid returning to school or work until at least 24 hours after antibiotic treatment has begun in order to avoid transmitting the streptococcus bacteria to others.

For home relief of streptococcal pharyngitis symptoms, the infected person can eat foods that soothe the throat, such as soup or yogurt, and avoid acidic or spicy foods and beverages that can cause further irritation. Drinking adequate fluids, using a humidifier, and taking nonprescription analgesics to reduce pain and fever are also recommended. To protect other family members, the patient's bedding, dishes, and utensils should be washed in hot water. It is suggested that the patient should use a new toothbrush once antibiotic treatment has begun.

Individuals who have strep throat should be monitored for indicators of rheumatic fever, which can occur up to 21 days after a strep infection. These signs include joint pain or swelling, rash, fever, and feeling short of breath. Medical advice should also be sought if the patient produces urine that is the color of cola more than seven days after a strep infection. This symptom can indicate the need for possible treatment of a kidney condition called poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis.

Streptococcal pharyngitis, or strep throat, typically responds well to antibiotic treatment.
Streptococcal pharyngitis, or strep throat, typically responds well to antibiotic treatment.

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