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Strep Throat

What Is Strep Throat?

Strep throat is a disease caused by a tiny ball-shaped type of bacteria (say: bak-TEER-ee-uh) called group A strep.

If a kid has strep throat, the doctor will give them medicine called an antibiotic (say: an-tye-bye-AH-tik) to kill the strep bacteria. That's good news because sometimes strep throat can get worse and cause problems with other parts of a kid's body. For example, untreated strep can cause kidney problems or heart problems from a disease called rheumatic (say: roo-MA-tick) fever.

Most of the time kids get the medicine they need and recover from strep throat very quickly. Within about 12 hours after starting on antibiotics, you probably won't have a fever and won't be contagious. By the second or third day, other symptoms should start to go away.


How Do I Know if I Have Strep Throat?

If you have a sore throat, your doctor will look into your mouth for:

  • a red throat
  • swollen tonsils
  • white patches or streaks on your tonsils

Most of the time, strep will give you a sore throat, headache, stomachache, and fever. It probably won't give you a runny nose or cough.

To be sure you have strep throat, your doctor may do one or two tests:

First, they can do a rapid strep test to check for strep bacteria. The doctor rubs a cotton swab over the back of your throat. Then, the doctor can find out in a few minutes if you have strep throat.

  • Getting a Strep Test

    Getting a Strep Test

    If you have a really sore throat, you may need a strep test. It’s done in seconds!

If the first test doesn't prove anything, your doctor might do a longer test called a throat culture. Again, the doctor will use a cotton swab. The results are usually available within a couple of days.

How Can I Get Better?

If you have strep throat, your doctor will give you an antibiotic, a medicine that kills bacteria. To make sure the bacteria go away completely and don't spread to other parts of your body, you must finish all the medicine. Your doctor will have you take the pills or liquid for 10 days.

Be sure to take all 10 days of the medicine to make sure all the bad bacteria are gone. If you don't, you could get sick all over again.

Your mom or dad may give you acetaminophen (say: uh-see-tuh-MIN-uh-fin) to get rid of aches, pains, and fever. You'll want to have soothing drinks, like tea and warm chicken soup. Frozen foods like ice cream or popsicles also can help to ease throat pain. Avoid spicy and acidic foods, such as orange juice, because they could hurt your tender throat.

Most kids can go back to school when they've taken antibiotics for at least 12 hours and no longer have a fever.

Is Strep Throat Contagious?

Strep throat is very contagious, and anybody can get it. It happens a lot in kids and teens, especially during the school year when big groups of kids are together.

How Do People Get Strep Throat?

Strep throat is spread when healthy people come into contact with someone who has it. The bacteria can spread to you when a person with strep throat sneezes, coughs, or blows their nose and you're nearby, or if you share the same forks, spoons, or straws. People also can get infected if they touch something with the bacteria on it, then touch their nose or mouth.

Can I Prevent Strep Throat?

If someone in your house has strep throat, follow these tips to help protect yourself from getting it:

  • The person with strep throat should cover their mouth when sneezing and coughing. If they don't have a tissue handy, they should cough or sneeze into their elbow — not their hands!
  • Don't touch used tissues or other germy items.
  • Wash your hands well and often, especially before eating.
  • Don't share food, drinks, napkins, handkerchiefs, or towels.
  • Wash dishes, drinking glasses, knives, forks, and spoons in hot, soapy water.

If you're the one who's sick, ask your parent for a new toothbrush after you start taking the antibiotics and are no longer contagious.

Strep throat is no fun, but after feeling sick for a couple of days, most kids start getting back to normal. In other words, they feel less streppy and more peppy!

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: Mar 10, 2023

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