Strep Throat

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What is strep throat and what causes strep throat?

Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the soft palate and tonsillar region. Microbiologists specifically identify the member of the Streptococcus bacterial family that causes strep throat as "GAS" (Group A, beta hemolytic, streptococcus pyogenes). Strep throat is most common in young children and adolescents, but it is not unusual in toddlers and adults. It is highly contagious and it is present most commonly in the community during the winter months. Interestingly, the symptoms and physical signs may vary depending upon the age of the infected patient.

What are the signs and symptoms of strep throat?

Signs of strep throat are not unique - indeed many viral infections (which cause the large majority of sore throats) can have identical signs and symptoms as a GAS infection. Typically, an older child and adolescent will have several core symptoms:

Of note is the fact that runny nose, cough, hoarse voice, muscle aches, diarrhea and oral blisters are generally not seen with a laboratory confirmed strep throat infection. These latter symptoms are more commonly indicative of a sore throat caused by a virus.

Physical examination with a strep throat infection will commonly demonstrate:

  • Redness of the soft palate, uvula (the "punching bag" structure hanging from the back of the soft palate) and tonsils
  • A purulent discharge on the tonsils (exudate)
  • Petechiae (1-2 mm bright red "dots" which represent ruptured capillaries) scattered on the soft palate
  • Enlarged and tender neck lymph nodes (also known as lymph glands), and occasionally
  • A diffuse rash over the torso and groin region. The classic description of this rash is that of "goose bumps on a moderate sunburn."

The presence of a strep infection and this specific rash is termed scarlet fever. Such a diagnosis does not imply a more severe GAS infection or imply any change in prognosis or management. The rash is not contagious. It is important to note that while most patients with strep throat will experience these signs and symptoms, not all will necessarily be present in each individual.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/4/2013

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Strep Throat Symptoms

What are the Symptoms and Signs of Strep Throat?

Throat infection with strep bacteria is contagious and can cause a variety of symptoms associated with inflammation of the throat and its nearby structures. Symptoms usually begin within a few days (1-4 days) after contracting the infection (incubation period).

Typical signs of strep throat infection are:

  • fever;

  • swollen, tender lymph nodes on the sides of the neck;

  • white patches seen on the tonsils and throat.

Some other more non-specific signs and symptoms of strep throat which can also be seen in strep throat due to other causes are:

  • sudden onset of sore throat,

  • headache,

  • odynophagia (painful swallowing),

  • nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain,

  • red, swollen soft palate (uvula), and/or

  • rash (diffuse red patchy rash).

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