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Is Strep Throat Contagious?

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Is Strep Throat Contagious?

writtenByWritten by: Andy Wong
Andy Wong

Andy Wong

Andy is the Chief Marketing Officer at PlushCare. He's passionate about advancing healthcare solutions and improving access to care via health technology.

Read more posts by this author.

March 7, 2021 Read Time - 10 minutes

What Is Strep Throat?

Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by a species of bacteria known as Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A Streptococcus (GAS). The Streptococcus bacteria is highly contagious and can be passed from one person to another 2 to 5 days before symptoms even begin to show.

Common forms of transmission include:

  • Kissing
  • Hugging
  • Shaking hands
  • Respiratory droplets
  • Touching surfaces containing the Streptococcus bacteria
  • Not washing hands before eating or touching the face

Read: Strep Throat Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments


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Strep Throat and Bacteria

Streptococcus pyogenes are the more common bacteria and the leading cause of most strep throat cases. 

Group A Streptococcus has the unique ability to invade epithelial cells, which refer to cells lining organs and glands as well as the outer surface of your body. They tend to colonize the upper respiratory tract, with most strains comprising respiratory and skin infections.

Streptococcus pyogenes is also responsible for:

  • Toxic shock syndrome
  • Sinusitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Certain skin infections, like impetigo and cellulitis

Group B Streptococcus is a second species of the bacteria. It is rare and associated with more severe conditions, including blood infections and meningitis, an infection of membranes in the spinal cord and brain.

How Contagious Is Strep Throat

The Streptococcus bacteria is highly contagious, and as often as it happens to kids and teens, it can happen to just about anyone at any age. While there are documented cases of Streptococcus outbreaks originating in food and water, the occurrence would be rare in modern practice.

Streptococcus pyogenes can be spread via one-on-one contact. That includes kissing, hugging, or shaking someone’s hand. Once the bacteria is on your hands, it can reach your nose or throat when you touch your face or eat food with your hands.

The bacteria can also survive for some time on objects and surfaces, including doorknobs, telephones, and keyboards. You could contract the bacteria if you touched one of these surfaces and then touched your face.

However, the most common mode of transmission is respiratory droplets in the air. These are water droplets from a person’s mouth or nose after sneezing or coughing. The strep throat bacteria can easily enter your system should you accidentally breathe in these droplets.

In children, the bacteria are easily spread via these droplets as well as via nasal discharge. This combination is exacerbated by classroom environments that see large numbers of kids in close contact.

Is Strep Throat Contagious Before Symptoms?

Yes, before you start to feel or see any symptoms, you are contagious. In skin infections, the bacteria can exist on the surface of your healthy skin for a week before you even see any lesions, sores, or other symptoms. Streptococci bacteria can also be harbored on fingernails, though these bacteria strains are more often associated with skin infections like impetigo.

How Long Is Strep Throat Contagious?

After being diagnosed with strep throat, you should stop being contagious within the first 24 hours of taking antibiotics. With antibiotics, you should show improvement in one or two days.

If you do take antibiotics for strep throat and don’t have a fever the night before going to school or work, you should be safe to venture into the public as you won’t be contagious. However, if you have a fever the night prior, you will still be contagious and plan to recuperate at home the next day.

Without antibiotics, strep throat should generally go away on its own within a week. However, you may still be contagious in the two to five days before you even begin exhibiting symptoms. This is known as the incubation period.

Furthermore, even after you feel better, the Streptococcus bacteria may still be in your system for the next few days, allowing you to spread it to others. Individuals who don’t use antibiotics may be contagious for a total of two to three weeks.

How Long Does Strep Throat Last? 

Taking antibiotics within 48 hours of the disease’s onset shows significant results. You should feel better within one or two days. Children can generally return to school about 24 hours after treatment. However, remember to take the medication’s full course to eliminate the infection entirely. Stopping your antibiotics midway or too early can cause a relapse or lead to severe complications.


Read: Best Antibiotics for Strep Throat


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Strep Throat Symptoms

What does strep throat feel like? The first step in knowing whether or not you have strep throat is to identify your symptoms. The main sign of strep throat is a sore, itchy throat that comes on suddenly and quickly. 

The other signs of strep throat are: 

  • A fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • White patches or deposits on the tonsils
  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • General feelings of illness
  • Enlarged, swollen lymph nodes along the sides of your neck
  • Purple and red spots on the roof of your mouth

Other symptoms, like a runny nose, red eyes, or diarrhea, may point to a viral infection instead of a bacterial infection.

What Does Strep Throat Look Like?

Strep throat has distinctive visual signs. Some of the most indicative of strep throat you can see are white dots or patches on the throat. Or red and swollen tonsils, or bumps on either side of the back of the throat. 

Potential Complications from Strep Throat

Can strep throat go away on its own? While your body generally has the strength to fight strep throat independently, it may still need help from antibiotics. Without antibiotics, you significantly increase the risk of strep throat progressing to become one of several more serious complications. 

Some of the most common complications include:

  • Acute rheumatic fever: This occurs when antibodies fighting the Streptococcus bacteria accidentally begin attacking the cells in your skin, joints, and heart. Ongoing damage to your heart’s muscles and valves can lead to congestive heart failure. This condition is rare thanks to the growth of antibiotics, but it is still possible. Acute rheumatic fever generally occurs two to four weeks after strep throat’s onset.
  • Scarlet fever: This disease combines the sore throat and fever with a rough red rash that feels like sandpaper (giving scarlet fever its name). It generally only occurs in younger children under the age of 18.
  • Toxic shock syndrome: Group A Streptococcus may release gases and toxins that accumulate, leading to toxic shock syndrome. This condition is potentially life-threatening and is characterized by fever, rash, and low blood pressure. This can possibly progress the failure of multiple organs.
  • Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis: Glomerulonephritis is a type of kidney disease characterized by damage to the part of your kidneys involved with filtering fluids and waste out of your blood. It is more common in children age two to 12 years old.
  • Sinusitis: Sinusitis, also known as a sinus infection, occurs when your sinuses become blocked, preventing proper drainage of mucus. This allows for the growth and proliferation of bacteria, leading to an infection. The symptoms of sinusitis include congestion, coughing, postnasal drip, headaches, and nasal discharge.

Strep throat may also lead to the formation of abscesses on the tonsils. An abscess is essentially a bubble of tissue and pus. While it is not necessarily harmful on its own, it can be painful and cause swelling. In more severe cases, abscesses can block the throat, making it difficult to swallow, speak, or even breathe.

Diagnosing Your Strep Throat

The main problem with strep throat is that many of its primary symptoms tend to overlap with other common illnesses, like the common cold and sinusitis.

Administering antibiotics if it is not strep throat may not only put a toll on your body, but also lead to the development of bacteria that may be resistant to antibiotics. This causes problems for you and becomes a more considerable public health concern. The best way to determine if you actually have strep throat is to consult a physician for a professional diagnosis.

The most common diagnostic test for strep throat is known as the rapid antigen test. During this test, your doctor will take a swab of your throat and analyze the swab for the presence of any antigens. You can get reasonably accurate results within minutes that show if the infection is caused by Streptococcus, a virus, or other invading organisms.

If the rapid antigen test results come out as negative, but your doctor still suspects that you may have strep throat, he may proceed with other tests, usually a throat culture. In this test, your doctor will swab your tonsils and the back of your throat. He will then rub the swab over some plates and let the plates incubate. If you do have strep throat, the bacteria will grow on the plates. This process can take up to two days, but it can be much more conclusive.


Read: What To Do If You Have Strep Throat While Pregnant


Preventing the Spread of Strep Throat

Aside from treatment, the best thing you can do to prevent giving strep throat to others is to stay at home and rest until you feel better. Because of how communicable Streptococcus is, merely opening doors and speaking to others is enough to potentially spread the bacteria to coworkers, peers, friends, and family.

If you must go outside or suspect you’ll still be contagious while around others, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly using warm water and soap. As a general rule of thumb, you should be scrubbing for at least the length of the alphabet song. If you can’t reach a sink, keep some hand sanitizer on your person and use it frequently.
  • Cover your mouth whenever you cough or sneeze using a tissue or napkin. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or your elbow if you do not have anything else handy. If possible, consider wearing a mask. This may make it hard for others to understand you, but it can significantly prevent the amount of bacteria you spread. Avoid covering your mouth with your hands. If you do, clean your hands immediately with soap and warm water.
  • Do not share any personal objects. That includes eating utensils and drink cups.

When you are feeling on the mend, consider disinfecting items in your home to prevent spreading the bacteria to potential guests. Switch out your toothbrush once you have fully healed as well.

If you have several kids in your household, expect all of them to get strep throat. Research suggests that there’s a 50 percent chance of a child sharing strep throat with their siblings.

If you suspect you might have strep throat, make sure you see your doctor or visit an urgent care center. You will make yourself feel better and prevent the spread of the disease.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

Strep Throat Treatment

The best way to prevent the spread of strep bacteria is to get treatment and get it early. When you have strep throat, the top thing on your mind is how to get rid of strep throat. Treatments for strep throat involve antibiotics, most commonly penicillin and amoxicillin. 

Getting treated early not only reduces the severity and duration of the infection but also decreases the risk of you spreading the disease to those around you.

Aside from antibiotics, your doctor may prescribe medicine that can help to manage symptoms. This can include over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, that can reduce the severity of your fever while alleviating headaches and throat soreness.

You can get treatment for strep throat by seeing an online doctor at PlushCare. Doctors can diagnose and prescribe antibiotics all over an online video or phone appointment. It’s easier than ever to take care of a strep throat infection with PlushCare. 

Click here to book an appointment with an online doctor. 


Read More About Strep Throat


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strep Throat: All You Need to Know. Accessed February 17, 2021, at https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/strep-throat.html

Mayo Clinic. Strep throat. Accessed February 17, 2021, at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/strep-throat/symptoms-causes/syc-20350338

Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Strep Throat (Bacterial). Accessed February 17, 2021, at https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/conditions/strep-throat

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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