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Strep throat is caused by Streptococcus bacteria, the most common bacterial culprit behind sore throat infections. This illness is most common among children and adolescents, but adults can contract it as well. It's a bacterial infection and requires an antibiotic to treat it effectively.
The symptoms of strep throat may vary depending on age but almost always include a sore throat. Many times, the throat pain is accompanied by fever and possibly headache, and small children may develop a rash as well. The rash looks like small, red bumps, usually located under the arms or elsewhere on the torso. A patient may also experience a stomach ache and swollen glands.
Anyone who has a sore throat accompanied by fever should see a healthcare professional. If this individual suspects strep throat, he or she will run a test by swabbing the back of the throat to confirm the presence of the bacteria. Usually, a strep test is a combination of a rapid test and a culture. A rapid strep test is not as conclusive as a laboratory culture, but medical professionals can often confirm strep in about 15 minutes and prescribe a course of antibiotics if necessary. They usually follow this test by sending the sample to a lab for confirmation by culture, which takes about 24 hours.
The presence of a persistent sore throat should be checked by a professional, as an infection that is left untreated can develop into rheumatic fever, a rare condition that can impact the joints and the heart. Penicillins, macrolides, and cephalosporins are common antibiotics prescribed to treat the illness. In rare cases, a medical professional may suggest removing the tonsils if it is suspected that they are harboring bacteria and causing recurrent infections.
Strep throat is contagious, and children with it should avoid returning to school or daycare until they have been both without fever and taking an antibiotic for 24 hours. The bacteria can be spread by coughing and sneezing, and also by contact with objects an infected person has touched. This is why the condition is so common among children.
Not all sore throats are strep infections, but it is common. If the pain disappears shortly after waking or is relieved by drinking fluids, it may be a viral infection. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help relieve the pain and discomfort. If a sore throat is causing difficulty swallowing, resulting in drooling, or difficulty with breathing, medical attention should be sought immediately.