Some strains of strep throat can lead to a scarlet fever-like rash. This rash is thought to be an allergic reaction to toxins made by the strep bacteria.
Signs and tests
A rapid test can be done in most health care provider offices, but misses a few of the cases.
If the rapid strep test is negative and your health care provider still thinks you or your child may have strep, a throat swab can be tested (cultured) to see if strep grows from it. However, it will take one to two days for results to come back.
Most sore throats are caused by viruses, not strep-related bacteria. Strep cannot be accurately diagnosed by symptoms or a physical exam alone. Many of the other causes of sore throats may have the same symptoms.
Sore throats should only be treated with antibiotics if the strep test is positive. Antibiotics are taken to prevent rare but more serious health problems, such as rheumatic fever.
Penicillin or amoxicillin is usually first tried. Antibiotics should be taken for 10 days, even though symptoms are usually gone after few days.
The following tips may help your sore throat feel better:
Drink warm liquids such as lemon tea or tea with honey.
Gargle several times a day with warm salt water (1/2 tsp of salt in 1 cup water).
Drink cold liquids or suck on popsicles.
Suck on hard candies or throat lozenges. Young children should not be given such products because they can choke on them.
A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can moisten and soothe a dry and painful throat.
Try over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen.
Symptoms of strep throat usually get better in about 1 week. Untreated, strep can lead to serious complications.
Call if you develop the symptoms of strep throat. Also, call if you are being treated for strep throat and are not feeling better within 24 - 48 hours.
Most people with strep are contagious until they have been on antibiotics 24 - 48 hours. They should stay home from school, daycare, or work until they have been on antibiotics for at least a day.
Get a new toothbrush after you are no longer contagious, but before finishing the antibiotics. Otherwise the bacteria can live in the toothbrush and re-infect you when the antibiotics are done. Also, keep your family's toothbrushes and utensils separate, unless they have been washed.
If repeated cases of strep still occur in a family, you might check to see if someone is a strep carrier. Carriers have strep in their throats, but the bacteria do not make them sick. Sometimes, treating them can prevent others from getting strep throat.
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A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine (2/12/2011).