Sore throat? How to know if it’s strep

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If you have a sore throat that you just can’t kick this winter, be careful. It may be than the common viruses you may often get around this time. You might have streptococcal pharyngitis, commonly known as strep throat.

“The incidence of strep is higher during the winter and spring months,” said Alysha Hart, certified family nurse practitioner and advanced practice nurse. “About 20 percent of the patients that come into my office complaining of sore throat will have strep throat.”

Here’s a quick and dirty run down on strep throat, how to spot it, and how to handle it.

It’s painful.

As its name suggests, strep throat can cause a really bothersome and painful sore throat, but it is likely to also cause other symptoms.

“Strep throat typically presents as an abrupt onset of sore throat, fever, swollen neck lymph nodes, enlarged tonsils — with or without the presence of white discharge, malodorous breath, rash, and/or nausea,” Hart said.

If symptoms are closer to those of a virus, strep may not be the cause, though.

“Upper respiratory symptoms including runny nose or cough suggest a viral infection, unless you are unfortunate to have both strep throat and another respiratory virus simultaneously,” Hart said.

It’s confirmed by a swab test by a medical professional.

When it comes to strep throat, you shouldn’t try to diagnose yourself. A medical professional will confirm the presence of bacteria using a swab test.

“If you think you have strep throat, make an appointment with your PCP or visit a retail clinic to be evaluated,” Hart said. “Clinicians will diagnose based on presentation of symptoms or testing a throat swab for presence of bacteria.”

It’s an infection treated with antibiotics.

Unlike with the common cold or flu, there are no over-the-counter medications to for strep throat. So, the sooner you can get into a medical office, the sooner you can start to feel better and reduce the risk of spreading the bacteria to others.

“Some strains of the bacteria can lead to complications so we treat with antibiotics to reduce that risk,” Hart said. “Also, we treat to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms and prevent transmission to others.”

Stay away from other people for 24 hours.

Strep throat is highly contagious and you can easily pass it on to family members, friends, and coworkers. That risk lessens after 24 hours of being on antibiotic treatment.

“After receiving a strep throat diagnosis and taking antibiotics for the first 24 hours, a person is minimally contagious,” Hart said. “So, make sure to take all medications as prescribed.”

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