Strep Throat: What You Need to Know About Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment.

Strep Throat: What You Need to Know About Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment.

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Sore throat is a common symptom for many different illnesses, from allergies to viruses and bacterial infections. It's most frequently associated with strep throat, or more specifically, group A Streptococcus, which is a contagious bacteria that causes inflammation and pain in the throat. Because it’s a respiratory illness that can spread through droplets in the air from coughing, sneezing, or direct contact.

Although strep throat can affect people of all ages, we worry about it more in children, who are more susceptible to complications if it’s left untreated. That’s why it’s important to understand the signs and when to get tested for strep throat. 

What are the signs of strep throat?

A sore throat is the most common symptom of strep throat, but other signs may include:

  • Fever
  • Pain when swallowing
  • White patches in the back of the throat
  • Swollen tonsils and glands

It’s also not uncommon for children to experience gastrointestinal issues as the first sign of strep throat. Symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain may indicate the contagious disease.

If you or your child are having difficulty swallowing or are drooling because it’s too painful to swallow, it’s important to seek care and get tested. Because strep throat is highly contagious, knowing whether or not you have it can help you take caution to limit the spread of it to others at school, daycare, or work.

How is strep throat diagnosed?

To determine what kind of illness is causing your sore throat, a healthcare provider will conduct a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. Depending on your symptoms, your provider may recommend several different tests to determine if you have strep throat, or another illness, such as RSV, COVID-19, or the flu.

Throat culture vs. PCR testing for strep throat.

Traditional strep throat tests involve an antigen test called a throat culture, which looks for a specific protein in the bacteria. However, the protein is only discoverable when it’s found in high numbers, from about day two of your symptoms through day five. In addition, you have to wait approximately three to four days for results. Because there’s a narrow window for detecting the illness, it’s about 80 percent accurate at diagnosing strep throat. This can lead to missed diagnoses and an increased risk of spread and/or complications in kids, such as rheumatic fever. 

In contrast, polymerase chain reaction
(PCR) tests look for the DNA of the virus with high sensitivity, making the test about 97% to 99% accurate. It amplifies the number of bacteria present in your throat sample and therefore can detect even the smallest amount of bacteria. As a result, PCR testing for strep throat is considered the gold standard and more reliable than throat cultures. 

Newer technology allows us to provide rapid PCR testing for strep throat.

At MedStar Health Urgent Care, we offer same-day, rapid PCR testing for strep throat, which allows us to leverage the accuracy of PCR tests within a quick time frame. Here, rapid strep test results are available within 12 to 18 minutes, which ensures you or your child receive prompt treatment and know whether or not the child can go back to school.

Rapid results also ensure we’re only prescribing antibiotics for those with confirmed group A strep. Studies show that about 37% of children who have come in to test for sore throat actually have strep throat, but treatment is offered for nearly 60%. In other words, sometimes providers are often treating patients before it’s confirmed they have group A strep. By using rapid PCR strep tests, we minimize the use of antibiotics for those who don’t actually need it. 

Strep throat is treated with antibiotics.

If you or your child are diagnosed with strep throat, you’ll need antibiotics to treat it. While the length of time varies based on the specific antibiotic your provider prescribes, antibiotics need to be taken for approximately ten days, on average. It’s important to take the entire course of antibiotics to relieve painful symptoms, shorten the illness duration, and prevent recurrence lor future complications. In addition to antibiotics, home remedies may help to ease symptoms, such as rest and hydration.

Rapid PCR tests at MedStar Health Urgent Care offer faster, more accurate results.

If you have strep throat symptoms or other signs of illness, our providers at MedStar Health Urgent Care will use rapid PCR tests to determine the cause of your symptoms. In addition to a throat swab to detect strep throat, you may undergo a single, shallow nasal swab to also test for COVID-19, flu, and RSV. As a result, you’ll know the root cause of your symptoms in less than 30 minutes, without needing to send out a culture to the lab. By dramatically reducing the wait time for your test results, we can minimize the amount of time you or your child are missing work or school and also decrease the use of unnecessary antibiotics and therefore any related antibiotic side effects. 

We’re here for you seven days a week, offering a full spectrum of timely testing, treatment, and services to help you get the care you need, the moment you need it.

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