Strep throat is an infection that can be spread through casual contact.
With early detection, there is a cure for strep throat. Viruses cause most sore throats, but about 15 to 20 percent are bacterial. Strep throat is named for the bacteria that causes this infection, Group A streptococcus. According to the Mayo Clinic, without treatment, strep throat can cause serious complications including infections of the tonsils, sinuses, ears and kidneys, as well as scarlet fever and rheumatic fever. The latter complication can result in heart damage. An understanding of the transmission, symptoms and diagnosis will aid in curing strep throat through appropriate treatment and palliative care. Adherence to prevention tips should accompany any cure to stop the spread of strep throat.
Strep throat is most prevalent during the cold months when people tend to congregate indoors. Strep bacteria are present in nasal and salivary secretions and spread through casual contact. The bacteria become airborne and reach bystanders when infected individuals are sneezing, coughing or nose blowing. The bacteria also spread when people shake hands, share eating utensils like cups and spoons and touch common surfaces like doorknobs, faucet handles, tables, books and toys. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some people carry strep bacteria on their skin and in their throats, but they display no signs of being ill.
Strep throat can be contracted at any age, but it is most prevalent in children and teenagers from 5 to 15 years old. Symptoms appear 2 to 5 days following contact with strep bacteria. The first signs include a sore throat and pain upon swallowing. The back of the throat appears red. The roof of the mouth bears red spots. Tonsils are inflamed and display white streaks of pus. Other symptoms include fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, little to no appetite, stomach ache, swollen lymph nodes in the neck and a rash at the armpits and skin folds.
To obtain an accurate diagnosis of strep throat, a sample of secretions from the throat is obtained. This is done by depressing the patient's tongue and wiping across the back of the throat and tonsils with a long, sterile cotton swab. A rapid strep test is performed in as little as 5 minutes. A rapid strep test is 97 to 98 percent accurate in ruling out Group A strep as the cause of sore throat. If a physician suspects the result is a false negative, a throat culture is performed. The throat swab is sent to a laboratory where it is wiped onto a small dish containing growth medium. If present, the bacteria will appear in 24 to 48 hours. A throat culture is the best means for accurate results.
First-line treatment for strep throat is oral penicillin. In severe cases where the patient is vomiting or a child cannot take oral medication, a single dose of penicillin is injected intramuscularly. Group A streptococcus is sensitive to many other antibiotics, which are commonly prescribed for strep throat including erythromycin, amoxicillin, clarithromycin, azithromycin, clindamycin and various cephalosporins. Patients typically feel better in a day or two but should take the full course of therapy prescribed. Strep bacteria are resistant to tetracyclines and sulfonamindes, so these medications are not prescribed. Patients diagnosed with strep throat are contagious until they have taken their prescribed antibiotic for 24 hours.
Patients can follow several steps to ease the discomfort of strep throat:
Soap and water are the keys to preventing strep throat. Hands should be washed routinely, especially before eating and preparing meals. Antibacterial wipes and hand cleaners are a good substitute when water is not available. Common surfaces should be periodically sanitized with soap and water or antibacterial spray cleaner. According to MedlinePlus, if repeated bouts of strep throat occur in a family, asymptomatic family members should be tested and treated if they are found to be carriers of strep bacteria.