Strep is caused by a bacteria in the throat. The most common bacteria is Group A streptococcus, but occasionally there are other bacterial causes. Treatment of strep is important because complications can develop from an untreated infection.
Symptoms of strep are sudden onset of fever, sore throat, headache, swollen lymph nodes under the neck, and tonsilar exudate (white spots or "goop" on the tonsils).
If the sore throat comes on gradually, is only present at night or comes and goes or you have cough, runny nose, or nasal congestion you likely have a cold and not strep throat.
Sore throats can also be caused by viral infections and these can be more common than bacterial infections. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections.
When you or your child goes is seen by a health care provider, they will examine you and do a throat culture. Often they will do a "rapid" test which is done right in the office. The accuracy of these tests varies from place to place but they are generally pretty accurate. The test is always sent to the lab for a final culture which takes 48 hours. If your rapid test comes back negative your health care provider may choose to treat you based on your symptoms or may decide to wait for the final culture.
If the test is positive, the most common treatment is penicillin. It is very important to finish all the medication as prescribed. If you do not take all the medication then the infection may come back.
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