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How to Know if it’s Strep Throat or Just a Sore Throat

Lately, we have been seeing  people walking into our New Britain urgent care center with strep throat like symptoms. It can often be tough to differentiate between strep, or “Streptococcal pharyngitis”-a bacterial  infection of the throat and the tonsils, and a sore throat, which can often times be viral, and not treatable with antibiotics.  This is why it is important to have a rapid strep test as a first step towards treatment.

Testing for Strep Throat

A rapid strep test can be done in our urgent care center and most health care provider offices. However, it can be negative even if you have strep.

If the rapid strep test comes out negative and your health care provider still thinks you or your child may have strep,  step 2 would be to have a throat swab tested (cultured) to see if strep grows from it. Results normally take 1 to 2 days to come in.

Strep throat is most common in children between ages 5 and 15, although anyone is susceptible.
Strep is highly contagious and spreads by person-to-person contact with fluids from the nose or saliva. It commonly spreads among family or household members and for school kids it is especially contagious within the school environment.

Common Symptoms of Strep Throat

Symptoms of strep may be mild or severe.  Often, you’ll start to feel sick about 2 to 5 days after coming in contact with the strep germ.

  • A fever may begin suddenly and is often highest on the second day. You may have chills
  • Red sore throat, sometimes with white patches
  • Swollen Uvula
  • Gray furry tongue
  • It may hurt to swallow
  • You may feel swollen, tender glands in your neck

Other symptoms may include:

  • General feelings of fatigue and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Some strains of strep throat can lead to a scarlet fever-like rash. The rash first appears on the neck and chest, then it spreads over the body

Treating Strep Throat

If positive, Penicillin or Amoxicillin is usually first tried. Antibiotics should be taken for 10 days, even though symptoms are usually gone after a 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 these 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.
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