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What Is a Bacterial Throat Infection?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A bacterial throat infection is an infection of the throat associated with the presence of bacterial organisms like Staphylococcus. Throat infections, also known by the term “pharyngitis,” can also be caused by viruses and fungi. When a patient reports with symptoms of an infection, the doctor will usually want to take a swab for analysis to find out what is causing the infection so the most appropriate treatment can be provided. In the case of a bacterial infection, antibiotics are the preferred method of treatment.

People can contract bacterial throat infections in a variety of ways, especially if their immune systems are compromised and they have trouble fighting off infectious organisms. Some common symptoms include sore throat, tenderness, swelling in the lymph nodes around the throat, and hoarseness. Patients may also have trouble eating if the throat is especially painful, and bad breath can develop as a result of the presence of numerous bacteria. The throat and tongue may also appear coated in a bacterial infection, as opposed to a viral infection.

Streptococcus is a common culprit behind bacterial throat infection and sore throats are often assumed to be “strep throat” or “strep,” a reference to these bacteria. Numerous other organisms can be involved. Usually, a broad spectrum antibiotic will address the issue, but if the patient's throat does not appear to clear up, a culture can be taken again to check for antibiotic resistance and see if another medication should be used. Treatment can also include drinking warm fluids to stay hydrated and using lozenges to ease soreness and inflammation in the throat.

Many people experience bacterial throat infections at some point during their lives. Low grade infections can often be fought off without medication in people who are healthy, eating a balanced diet, and have an opportunity to rest when they detect the early symptoms. If a sore throat does not clear up within several days or the symptoms grow worse, the patient should seek treatment from a doctor, as the infection may be more aggressive or could involve organisms that will not stop colonizing the throat without the use of antibiotic medications.

While a person has an active bacterial throat infection, the patient is contagious. The mouth should be covered when sneezing or coughing, and shared utensils should be avoided. It is also advisable for people to wash their hands regularly while they have a throat infection, to avoid passing bacteria by handling shared surfaces or shaking hands. Contact with people known to be immunocompromised should be avoided, as they may be less able to fight the infection.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Aug 06, 2013

I think I'm dealing with a bacterial throat infection right now. I'm miserable and worried that I'm going to pass it to my kids.

My throat is extremely swollen and sore. I have trouble swallowing and I've lost my appetite too. I'm trying to stay far away from the kids because I think I have strep throat symptoms. I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow, so I'll find out for sure then.

By bluedolphin — On Aug 06, 2013

@simrin-- Your infections last months?! Are you sure that they are bacterial and not viral throat infections? Because that doesn't sound normal. I've had bacterial throat infections before and I've always gotten better in a week, at most in a week and a half.

Perhaps you're taking antibiotics too often. Antibiotics actually have a weakening affect on the immune system in the long run. Taking antibiotics at every infection also causes the bacteria to develop resistance to the medication.

I think that's what has happened to you. Next time, try to get through it without antibiotics. Gargle often with salt water, drink hot tea with ginger and cinnamon. Also, I recommend taking fish oil capsules with vitamin E and vitamin C during winter. These strengthen the immune system and also have an anti-inflammatory affect. They will help prevent infections and will speed up recovery.

By SteamLouis — On Aug 05, 2013

I get a bacterial infection in my throat every winter and it can last for months! Every time, I have to beg my doctor to give me antibiotics because I don't get better otherwise.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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