Don’t Stress Over Strep
Learn when you should (and shouldn’t) get tested, best practices for treatment, how to contain the contagion, and where to go for affordable care.
Oh, the wonders of winter. Snowball fights, skiing, hot cocoa, and… strep throat?
Yes, the season of fun-filled pastimes and sparkling snow can also be marked by sickness. And this winter, our providers at Associates in Family Medicine are seeing higher-than-usual cases of strep throat.
While this bacterial bane on the winter season is familiar to most of us, our team of providers has noticed a number of misconceptions around strep throat. We talked to AFM physician and urgent care director Dr. Shelley Moore to get clarity on common strep throat symptoms, treatment options, spread, and more.
What are the most common strep throat symptoms?
The telltale signs of strep throat are – you guessed it – a very sore throat that is most often paired with a fever. “In general, people with strep don’t exhibit generic cold symptoms like coughs, runny noses, nasal congestion, or sneezing,” says Moore. “If you are experiencing these types of symptoms with the absence of a fever, chances are you have a viral infection, and you don’t need to be tested for strep.”
While throat pain and fever are the most common and notable symptoms of strep throat, other signs of this bacterial infection may include:
- Body aches
- Red, swollen tonsils (possibly with white patches or streaks of pus)
- Tiny red spots on the back portion of the roof of the mouth
- Swollen, tender lymph nodes in the neck
- Nausea or vomiting (particularly in younger children)
When should I get tested for strep throat?
If you have a sore throat that’s accompanied by a fever and/or some of the other symptoms described above (especially if these symptoms persist longer than 48 hours), it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
“With strep throat, it’s better to be seen earlier rather than later,” says Moore. “The quicker you get treated, the quicker you can be sure you don’t spread the infection to others. Also, if you get to the point where your pain is not well controlled and you have trouble drinking fluids, you run the risk of getting dehydrated and weak.”
Does strep throat require antibiotic treatment?
The short answer is yes. “Unlike ear infections, which can be bacterial or viral in nature, strep throat is always caused by bacteria (group A streptococcus),” Moore clarifies. “Therefore, best practice is to prescribe antibiotics to prevent future problems and stop the spread of the infection.
“While there are times when strep could go away without antibiotics, the problem is that some of those cases could have negative outcomes, especially for very young or elderly patients,” says Moore. “Complications can include abscesses inside the throat or on the tonsils, rheumatic fever, and even post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, which is a rare inflammation of the kidneys.”
How can I avoid getting (or spreading) strep throat?
To steer clear of strep throat and its unpleasant symptoms, follow a couple of simple yet effective practices in your day-to-day life. First and foremost, wash your hands regularly. “It doesn’t need to be antibacterial soap,” says Moore. “Regular soap and water can wash away all the potential germs responsible for spreading strep throat.” Moore also encourages people to avoid sharing drinks or foods with one another, even among family members.
If you already have strep throat symptoms or have been diagnosed with strep throat, keep in mind that you are typically most contagious when you have a fever. “Once you have started taking antibiotics, the general rule of thumb is 24 hours – or two doses of antibiotics for most prescriptions – before you are no longer contagious,” says Moore. As is the case when trying to escape strep throat, handwashing and avoiding close contact with other people are key to be sure you don’t spread your strep infection.
Where can I go for convenient, affordable strep throat treatment and care?
Because an official strep throat diagnosis cannot be made over the phone, Moore encourages people with strep symptoms to visit their primary care provider if they are able to be seen within 24 hours.
“If you can’t get in to your primary provider in a timely manner, the next step would definitely be to visit one of our urgent care locations, especially on the weekends,” says Moore. “We have access to rapid strep tests – which are easy, fast, and painless and take less than 10 minutes in the clinic setting.”
But what about the costs? “Thankfully, a rapid strep test is one of the least expensive point-of-care tests,” confirms Moore. “At several of our AFM urgent care and primary care locations, we also have most antibiotics available onsite – making the prescriptions much more affordable to patients with and without insurance.” Additionally, a visit to one of AFM’s urgent care locations will save you big bucks over an unnecessary trip to the ER. But it’s always a good idea to check with your insurance about what is and isn’t covered in your plan.
The top things to remember about strep throat
While there’s a lot of information out there on strep throat, here are the important things to keep in mind at this time of year and always:
- If you have generic cold symptoms with a sore throat, you probably don’t need a strep test – a virus is the more likely culprit.
- If you have throat pain, a fever, and not much else, go ahead and get tested.
- Strep tests are easy, fast, inexpensive, and painless.
- Strep throat is easily treated with affordable antibiotics.
- Keep washing those hands!
- Don’t depend on the internet for your diagnosis – count on experienced urgent care and primary care providers for a convenient, personalized diagnosis you can trust.