Throat infections are among the most common infections in both kids and adults. They are usually caused by one of a huge variety of pathogens and can range from completely harmless to potentially very dangerous.
Strep is a bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus bacteria. It is highly infectious and predominantly affects children. If left untreated, it can cause serious complications. Therefore, it is highly recommended to go to a doctor as soon as you detect the symptoms.
Luckily, if spotted early and properly treated, strep infection can’t cause any lasting or grave damage. Keep reading to find out the symptoms & causes, how long does strep last, what are the best treatment options, and more.
Symptoms and Causes
The telltale signs of a strep infection include fever, body aches, sensitive and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, swollen and red tonsils (sometimes with white pus patches and streaks), red spots on the hard or soft palate, problems swallowing, rash, painful throat, vomiting, and nausea. The last two are especially prevalent among kids. You may also experience such side effects as diarrhea, loss of appetite, and belly aches.
Strep infections are caused by a species of bacteria named Streptococcus pyogenes, otherwise known as GAS (group A Streptococcus), thus its name.
How Is Strep Transmitted?
Streptococcal infections are very contagious and can be acquired in several ways. Most commonly, they spread from person to person via airborne droplets when a person with strep throat coughs or sneezes. Also, they can be transmitted through drinks and food. If you come into contact with the droplets and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you might catch strep.
It is not unusual to contract the infection from common items shared with an infected individual. Streptococcus bacteria can be found on faucets, doorknobs, and other household items.
How Long Is It Contagious?
How long does strep last and how long is it contagious are the most common questions related to the infection. While there’s no uniform answer, it commonly takes two to five days for the symptoms to develop and become visible. A person who contracted the infection will remain contagious until they’ve received the antibiotic therapy for a minimum of 24 hours. Sometimes, it might take longer to exit the contagious stage, depending on the severity of the infection and the body’s response to the therapy.
Who’s at Risk?
While anyone can get strep, school-age children run a heightened risk of contracting the infection. That’s mainly due to weaker immune systems and prolonged periods of time in schools and daycare facilities.
On the other hand, parents and other adults who spend a lot of times with infected children are also at a higher risk of contracting the infection. Adults with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to the infection.
It is worth noting that strep is not a seasonal infection and can happen around the year. That said, late fall and early spring have the highest incidence rates.
Also, contracting the infection will not make one immune to subsequent infections. A doctor might recommend a tonsillectomy (tonsil removal) in the event of repeated infections. Have in mind that strep can be contracted even after the procedure.
What Can Go Wrong?
Like many other diseases and conditions, a strep infection can go awry if not properly treated or left untreated for some time. In most cases, it first spreads to the tonsils. After that, it may affect the sinuses, middle ear, skin, and in some cases, blood. While not dangerous in its initial stage, strep throat can cause serious problems if it spreads beyond the throat.
An uncontrolled strep infection can also cause a range of inflammatory reactions. Some of the most common include:
- Rheumatic fever. This is a serious condition that usually attacks the nervous system, joints, skin, and heart. Uncontrolled strep infection is one of the common causes.
- Poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis. This condition is commonly known as kidney inflammation and is a disorder of the small blood vessels (glomeruli) in the kidneys.
- Scarlet fever. A variant of streptococcal infection accompanied by major red-colored rashes.
- Poststreptococcal reactive arthritis. This is an inflammation of the joints caused by streptococcus infection.
Aside from the known complications, strep infections have also been linked to pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder (PANDAS). The term PANDAS is used for children who develop OCD or tic disorder or whose symptoms of OCD or tic become worse after an episode of strep. At the moment, there is no official scientific proof of a link between the worsening of neuropsychiatric symptoms and strep infection.
How Is Strep Diagnosed?
The most common method is the good old physical exam. The doctor will take a look at your throat, check the lymph nodes on your neck, and ask you about other symptoms commonly associated with strep. After the initial checkup, the doctor might perform a rapid antigen test (a throat swab) to determine the presence of streptococcus bacteria in the throat.
If the result of the rapid antigen test is negative but the doctor still thinks you might have strep, a throat culture might be in order. You will usually have to wait a day or two to get the results.
Since it’s a bacterial infection, strep is treated with antibiotics. The most common options include penicillin and amoxicillin, as they are fast-acting and effective. Also, they are affordable and among the safer options. If, however, the patient is allergic to penicillin, other antibiotics can be used.
Antibiotics are prescribed for a number of reasons. They can speed up the recovery process, relieve the physical pain caused by the infection, quickly reduce the chances of contagion, and help to prevent further complications.
Aside from antibiotics, patients might also be prescribed other medications to relieve the symptoms. Usually, pain relievers (ibuprofen or acetaminophen) and aspirin are prescribed to alleviate the fever and throat pain.
Along with therapy, it is recommended to rest as much as possible while the infection lasts. Also, an infected person should stay properly hydrated, eat food that’s easy to digest and swallow, drink warm tea, and stay away from tobacco smoke.
There are steps that you can take to minimize the chances of contracting the infection if you live with someone who has strep. These include washing your hands with warm water and soap; avoiding physical contact with infected children and adults until they’re no longer contagious; refraining from sharing drinks, food, personal hygiene items, and utensils with the infected; cleaning tabletops, doorknobs, and faucets before using them.
If you have strep, you should cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing. Also, you should refrain from going to school or work until the symptoms have passed or you have been taking antibiotics for at least 24 hours.
Though usually harmless and easily treated, strep can spread beyond the throat and wreak havoc if left unchecked. Sometimes, it can do serious and permanent damage to one’s body. The joints, heart, kidneys, and blood can be affected by a strep throat gone south.
With that in mind, it is highly recommended to react quickly and check in with your doctor as soon as you notice the first symptoms of strep. Aside from that, it is of the utmost importance to finish all the prescribed antibiotics.