|Stacey Blyth, MD|
As we progress into autumn, certain recurring illnesses are prevalent this time of year:
One of the nastier illnesses common this time of year is strep throat. Although it can strike at any time of the year, it tends to be most prevalent in late fall and early spring.
What is strep throat?
Strep throat is caused by the streptococcal bacteria. This bacterial infection in the throat and on the tonsils causes irritation, inflammation and a sudden, severe sore throat. Strep throat may be confused with the common cold, which exhibits similar symptoms. However, the common cold is caused by a virus while strep throat is caused by bacteria.
Some of the most common symptoms of strep throat are:
- A sudden, severe sore throat.
- Pain when you swallow.
- Fever over 101°F.
- Swollen tonsils and lymph nodes.
- White or yellow spots on the back of a bright red throat.
- A headache or stomach pain.
- A red skin rash.
- Loss of appetite.
- Feeling achy.
Strep bacteria are at their strongest where people are in close contact. This is the reason why the infection spreads easily in schools, child care facilities and among family members. Strep throat is passed from person to person through breathing, coughing or sneezing. An infected person will discharge tiny droplets containing the strep bacteria into the air which are then breathed in by others, increasing their risk of infection. One may also pick up the bacteria from a doorknob or other surface and transfer them to the nose, mouth or eyes. A person who is exposed to the strep bacteria will take anywhere from two to five days to show symptoms of strep throat.
Doctors typically treat strep throat with antibiotics, which shorten the time one is contagious and ease the symptoms of strep. Most people stop being contagious 24 hours after starting antibiotics. However, anyone may be contagious while still exhibiting symptoms. Without antibiotics, the contagious period could last up to 3 weeks. A doctor may also advise their patient to take an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophin or ibuprofen to help with pain and lower fever.
How do I avoid getting strep throat?
It is wise to avoid contact with anyone who has strep throat. If you find you are in contact with someone who has strep throat:
- Wash hands often.
- Don't drink or eat after the infected individual.
- Don't share toothbrushes.
- Keep your hands away from mouth, nose and eyes.
How do I avoid passing strep throat to others?
If you have been diagnosed with strep throat, there are steps you can take to avoid spreading the germs:
- Use disposable tissues and dispose of them
- Wash your hands frequently
- Do not sneeze or cough on othersStay home from work or school until 24 hours after you have started antibiotics