Is strep throat contagious? What you need to know

Doctor's advice / Sanitas Medical Center

Is strep throat contagious? What you need to know

Infections are everywhere

We are constantly exposed to microbes that enter our body and want to reproduce by using our systems. We are talking about viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. They all have different properties and characteristics, and they invade people susceptible to it.

Although viruses are the microbes that cause the vast majority of infections, any microscopic agent can cause a severe infection. Fortunately, our body is able to manage most of them relatively easily.

Our defense systems

Every time we are in contact with something, our body checks if it is harmless or alarming. And one of the most polluted substances we are in contact with is the air. Dirty air as the one of big cities contains a lot of bacteria, viruses and fungi. Several types of bacteria can infect the gut and airways, and receive names according to their own unique features.

What is a strep throat?

A strep throat is an airway infection caused by a group of bacteria called group A Streptococcus. They normally live in our nose and throat, so when we breathe they can come in and out of our bodies. This of course doesn’t mean they are going to infect us. To develop an infection, something has to change in our bodies to make bacteria invade our tissues.

Changes that make us susceptible include mood swings, stress, and sometimes medications. Infectious group A Streptococcus allocates on our pharynx and our tonsils, causing a wide range of signs and symptoms, including:

  • Sore, red and swollen throat and tonsils with painful swallowing, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus
  • Tiny red spots on the area at the back of the roof of the mouth (soft or hard palate)
  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes in your neck
  • Fever

However, since most of our infections are caused by viruses, they can also mimic and produce all the same symptoms. Some people do not develop any symptoms at all, and their bodies are able to clear the infection without medical support.

How can I know if it is a viral sore throat or a strep throat?

Sometimes it is difficult even for doctors to tell with certainty if an infection is viral or bacterial. Doctors rely on clinical clues and studies to choose what is best for every individual patient. Clinical clues that suggest that a virus is the cause of the illness instead of strep throat include:

  • Cough or sneeze
  • Runny nose
  • Changes in your voice that makes it sound breathy, raspy, or strained)
  • Conjunctivitis (also called pink eye)

Doctors can also order a rapid strep test obtained from a swab sample of the throat. It helps to decide how you are going to be treated. Compared to throat cultures (which can take days), a rapid strep test result is obtained within hours.

Does it have to be treated?

If you are diagnosed with a strep throat, you will have to be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are medications created to attack bacteria. Viral infections do not require antibiotics. But the ones who are licensed to prescribe antibiotics are doctors.

The risk of not treating a strep throat with antibiotics is to develop a complication. Serious complications are not common, but if you develop the infection, they can happen to you.

Complications include minor conditions such as ear or sinus infections, pockets of pus around the tonsils (abscesses). Scarlet fever and rheumatic fever (a very complex heart disease) also can develop after strep throat.

If you are prescribed an antibiotic, you should start feeling better 48 hours after the first dose. If you are feeling worse, you should return to your doctor to see what’s happening.

So, is it contagious?

Although all infections can be contagious, not all of them are spread the same way. Actually, many chronic infections with a proper medical treatment can also be non-contagious.

Respiratory infections can easily spread through saliva and mucous secretions from our noses and mouths, including:

  • Cough or sneezes
  • Shared food and eating utensils
  • Hands contaminated with microbes

Therefore, if you want to prevent respiratory diseases (including strep throat and COVID-19), you need to follow the next simple steps:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow (not your hands) if you don’t have a tissue
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Use face masks whenever you are near some who has a respiratory infection, or if you have one
  • Do not share food or utensils for eating.

If you think you have a strep throat, look for medical advice before starting any medication.

Remember that you can always count on Sanitas if you need Urgent Care consultations. We are here to take care of you and your family! Call 1-844-665-4827 to book an appointment, or ask for virtual attention through our website

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