Strep throat is an infection of the throat caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria, which cause swelling and irritation (inflammation) of the throat and tonsils.
Your thoat is the tube that connects your mouth to your esophagus and windpipe. The medical name for the throat is pharynx, which explains why a sore throat caused by a group AStreptococcus infection may also be referred to as streptococcal pharyngitis (inflammation of the throat). Strep throat may also be called streptococcal tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils). Strep throat is the most common bacterial cause of a sore throat, although the majority of sore throats are caused by viral throat infections.
Left untreated, a strep throat can cause serious health problems elsewhere in the body. Colonies of bacteria can travel to the heart, kidney, and other organs. Rapid diagnostic tests are used to confirm if sore throat is caused by group A Streptococcus so that prompt antibiotic therapy can be prescribed.
Strep throat is contagious. The infection can be passed in airborne particles to anyone but is most common in children. Symptoms of strep throat include a sore throat and cherry-red, inflamed and swollen tonsils. White patches of pus may appear on the tonsils. Other symptoms include pain with swallowing, headache and fever.
People who are in good health generally recover from strep throat at home by taking prescribed antibiotics as directed. Treatment also includes measures to help relieve symptoms and keep the body as strong as possible to minimize the risk of developing complications. Self-care measures include resting, taking medications to ease body aches and fever, and drinking plenty of fluids.
Curing a strep throat requires prescribed antibiotics. Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of strep throat, such as sore throat and fever; if you have a diagnosed case of strep throat that is not getting better with antibiotics; or if there is increased swelling of the tonsils.
Complications of strep throat, such as rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, can be serious, even life threatening in rare cases. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, are unable to swallow, have difficulty breathing, or have a change in alertness or consciousness.