Strep Throat: Diagnosis, Transmission and Treatment
Strep throat is caused by a certain strain of Streptococcus bacteria known as Strep A. Before the advent of modern antibiotic therapy, strep throat was a serious disease. It had a very real potential for dangerous complications.
Left untreated, the throat infection can develop into a disease known as scarlet fever. Patients develop a high fever and a bright red rash, as a reaction to toxins produced by the bacteria.
This throat infection can cause rheumatic fever. This is an inflammation of the joints, brain, skin and heart. Rheumatic fever can continue to cause a lifetime of problems for the victim, even long after they have recovered from the initial strep infection.
Before modern treatments, strep bacteria was a common cause of mitral valve disease. The mitral valve is one of the heart’s four valves, which control blood flow within the heart’s four chambers.
Strep bacteria can infect wounds, causing life-threatening systemic infections, such as septicemia, or blood poisoning. It can also cause kidney damage.
Strep can be spread to others by direct contact and also through the air. Coughing, kissing and hand transfer can transmit it. For example, if you touch an object with the bacteria on it, and then you touch your nose or mouth, you may transfer the bacteria to yourself and become infected. After a person has been on antibiotic therapy for at least 24 hours, they are far less contagious to others than they were before.
Bacterial or Viral?
Not all cases of throat soreness are due to strep. In fact, most are not. Viruses and allergies can also cause the throat to feel sore sometimes. So can inflammation of the tonsils. Even a severe case of acid reflux can sometimes cause throat soreness.
When the doctor examines you, the possibility of strep will be on his or her mind. So what is the difference? Besides throat pain, here are some things your doctor will be watching for:
- If it’s strep, there will likely be whitish spots toward the back of the oral cavity
- If the tongue appears to be swollen and a bright strawberry red, strep may be present
- Fever higher than 101 degrees F.
Strep may also cause reddish or purplish spots on the roof of the mouth, swollen neck glands and nausea and vomiting. The uvula, or appendage at the back of the mouth, may be very red and swollen. Painful swallowing will be very evident.
A simple sore throat that is caused by a virus may be red and painful, but the other above symptoms will likely be absent. Soreness caused by a virus will likely be accompanied by sneezing and coughing.
Whether it’s a strep infection or not, there are two ways to be sure:
- A strep screen
- A strep culture
A strep screen is simple diagnostic tool that gives an immediate answer as far as if it’s a type of strep or not. A strep culture is a procedure in which a scraping of your cells are grown out in a lab dish. A culture will reveal exactly which strain of strep you have and which antibiotics will be the most effective against it. Most strep infections are easily killed by penicillin, amoxicillin and other common antibiotics. It’s not unusual for the patient to begin to feel better within a matter of hours after the first couple of doses.
You may take mild OTC pain medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the sore throat. Cold drinks, ice cubes and sorbet will help alleviate throat pain and painful swallowing. Be sure you only suck on the ice cubes. Never chew them.
All cases of painful swallowing that persist for more than a couple days need to be medically evaluated. Call your doctor for an immediate appointment. Never take chances with Strep A. Protect your health and see a ENT Doctor right away.