Streptococcal pharyngitis is better known by its nickname of strep throat. It is a very common bacterial infection that often causes pain and scratchiness within the throat. While it is easily treatable, it is also easily transmitted though direct contact with an infected individual during activities like shared drinks and kissing.
It also travels through the air when a person coughs or sneezes. The condition can affect anyone but is most common in children and teenagers during the school year.
Streptococcal bacteria are the microorganisms responsible for strep throat infections. They create a painful swelling and inflammation of the pharyngeal tissue lining the back of the throat and around the tonsils. The same bacteria can also cause other illnesses such as impetigo. Some people who contract streptococcal bacteria never show any sign of infection.
Some of the symptoms seen with strep throat can easily be misidentified as other common afflictions, so it is important to have tests done to confirm the diagnosis. After an incubation period lasting 1 to 4 days, patients will often experience:
Severity of symptoms can range from severe to mild and are frequently described as having a sudden onset. Although it is rare, complications of streptococcal pharyngitis can involve the kidneys or heart.
Streptococcal pharyngitis is caused by an infection from bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes. This bacteria is highly contagious, which is why strep throat is so common and often passes among several people within one household.
The bacteria can spread via airborne droplets, which means that a cough or sneeze is enough to pass it to another individual. Shared food and drinks are also common ways to become infected. It’s even possible for strep throat to be picked up from touching surfaces, such as doorknobs, that infected people have touched. For example, someone may have used their hand to cover a cough or sneeze, and when they subsequently wash their hands they could contaminate the bathroom door knob and the water faucet.
The most commonly used therapies against a strep infection are various oral antibiotics. Depending on the specifics, a doctor may prescribe amoxicillin, penicillin, azithromycin, or cephalexin. Patients who are experiencing fevers and pain can use ibuprofen, NSAIDs, analgesics, or acetaminophen to relieve symptoms. Over-the-counter throat lozenges are helpful for alleviating scratchiness and pain in the throat. Other home remedies that are often beneficial include herbal teas, throat sprays, gargling salt water, and humidifiers.
When it comes to preventing strep throat, minimizing contact with those with the infection is highly effective. If you do come into contact with someone with strep throat, wash your hands frequently and avoid sharing drinking and eating utensils, food, drinks and anything else which is likely to be near their mouth.
Since the bacteria can live on surfaces, it’s important to keep up your increased rate of hand washing in any environment where people with strep throat may have been in, such as shared bathrooms. It’s also wise to increase the frequency at which you clean surfaces like door knobs or water faucets.
Bacteria only tend to enter our bodies via ingestion or via our mucous membranes. Mucous membranes line the eyes and nose, so avoid touching your face to reduce the risk of becoming infected with strep throat from your hands, which may have come into contact with a contaminated surface.
Strep throat can strike at any time of year, but it is most common in late fall and early spring. It may be wise to adopt the extra precautions outlined above at these times of year when the likelihood of contracting it is particularly high.