Is Sore Throat (Pharyngitis) Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

What is pharyngitis?

Pharngitis is medical term for a sore throat. Pharyngitis is an inflammation of the pharynx (throat) that results in throat discomfort, pain and/or throat scratchiness; in some individuals it may cause painful swallowing. Sore throat is usually caused by a viral infection and less commonly, a bacterial infection usually by group A streptococci (strep throat). Other causes of sore throat include inflammation due to allergy, toxins, or cancer. Some doctors distinguish pharyngitis from laryngitis and/or tonsillitis, but others do not. Laryngitis is confined to the larynx (voice box) while tonsillitis is inflammation confined to the tonsils. Since it is not unusual for a pharingitis to spread to adjacent structures like the tonsils or larynx, it is not unreasonable to lump these inflammatory diseases together; however, the symptoms are slightly different for each disease.

There are three types of pharyngitis

  1. non-exudative (does not produce fluids like pus; this is the most common form of pharyngitis and usually caused by viruses),
  2. exudative (produces a body fluid like pus; this usually suggest a bacterial cause), and
  3. ulcerative (production of small ulcers and/or a grayish membrane on parts of the pharynx). Ulcerative pharyngitis (mainly caused by bacteria) is infrequently seen but is considered to be a medical emergency.

Is a sore throat contagious?

Yes, pharyngitis (viral and bacterial) is contagious and can be transmitted from one person to another. Usually, mucus, nasal discharge and saliva can contain the viruses and/or bacteria that can cause sore throat . Consequently, even kissing can cause transfer of these organisms. Unfortunately, some of these viruses and bacteria that cause sore throat can survive for a period of time on objects like towels, brushes or even clothing, so that contact with these contaminated items can spread the disease.

Sore throat caused by allergy, toxins, trauma or cancers are not contagious. The focus of this article will be on sore throat caused by viruses and bacteria since these are the most common causes of sore throat.

20 Sore Throat Home Remedies

There are a variety of home remedies that can be used to help soothe a sore throat. Check out these 20 home remedies to sooth a sore throat.

  1. OTC pain medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin)
  2. Sage or Echinacea throat spray
  3. Apple cider vinegar
  4. Raw garlic

How will I know if someone has a sore throat?

Pharyngitis can cause the pharynx (the throat) tissue to become swollen and reddish. Some people can develop a mild fever and have some difficulties speaking or swallowing food. swollen Lymph nodes and tonsils may enlarge and become tender. Those affected may feel excessively tired.

Laboratory studies can detect group A streptococci (rapid antigen detection). Other diagnostic tests can include throat cultures or the Mono spot test. A health-care professional may help you determine the cause of your sore throat. In addition, some doctors use the specific set of criteria (Centor criteria) to determine the likelihood of a person getting strep throat (Streptococcal pharyngitis).

How is sore throat spread?

Sore throat is transmitted from one person to another by bacteria or viruses in the infected person's saliva, mucus and/or nasal discharge. People that are not infected just need to come in contact with these substances directly or indirectly by touching contaminated objects such as hairbrushes, towels, or toothbrushes.

How will I know if I'm cured of a sore throat?

Sore throat caused by viruses is usually contagious as long as symptoms are present. Once the symptoms disappear, the person is usually no longer contagious and is"cured" of viral pharyngitis. However, the person may still be susceptible to other types of viruses that can cause pharyngitis. Bacterial pharyngitis usually is also contagious as long as symptoms are present but, in contrast to viral pharyngitis, antibiotics may reduce the time span of infection, and the individual becomes no longer contagious about 24 hours after taking an effective antibiotic.

When should I contact health-care professional about a sore throat?

If a person has a sore throat should contact a health-care professional if they

  • have a sore throat for more than a week,
  • if they develop a reddish rash,
  • if the lymph nodes are swollen and tender, and/or if the person has a high fever.

Go to an Emergency Department immediately if a person develops

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Medically Reviewed on 10/10/2017
REFERENCE: Acerra, J. "Pharyngitis." Medscape. Updated: Apr 04, 2017.
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