What is Strep?
Strep, aka strep throat, is a highly contagious illness caused by streptococcal bacteria. These bacteria infect the tonsils and back of the throat, causing a painful sore throat, high fever (above 101 degrees F), body aches, and (sometimes) stomach pain. Strep causes visible white or yellow splotches on the tonsils and/or back of the throat.
Streptococcal bacteria do not cause other “common cold” symptoms, such as a runny or stuffy nose or sneezing. Knowing how to treat strep is important, because untreated strep throat can cause serious health problems, including death. Fortunately, proper treatment is readily available and affordable.
Who Gets Strep? How is it Transmitted?
Strep is most common among children between the ages of 5 and 15, (MayoClinic, 2010) though anyone can get it. Like the common cold, strep is transmitted by breathing in airborne droplets containing microbes, touching contaminated surfaces, or by sharing utensils with an infected person (Healthwise, 2008). Individuals who have been in close contact with an infected person, such as parents, spouses or other caregivers, are most likely to catch strep themselves.
Strep Diagnosis and the Importance of Treatment
Most sore throats are caused by viruses (such as those that cause colds) and not by strep bacteria. However, it is very important for any person with a persistent sore throat to be tested for strep. The same bacteria that causes strep is responsible for scarlet fever and rheumatic fever, which can cause inflamed joints, liver problems, and damage to the heart (WebMD, 2010).
Strep is diagnosed via a throat culture. A health care professional uses a cotton swab to collect a few cells from the back of the throat. This sample is then tested for the presence of streptococcal bacteria. Drugstore-based clinics, such as the Walgreens Take Care Clinic, often offer strep tests that are faster and much less expensive than those done by private labs.
Antibiotic treatment is the only cure for strep. Most often, a health care provider will prescribe penicillin or one of it’s derivatives, though other options, such as cephalexin, are also available for those who have a penicillin allergy. These drugs cost less than $5 for a standard 10-day regimen.
It is vitally important that the patient finish taking all of his or her antibiotics (even after symptoms disappear). This not only prevents the creation of an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria, it keeps the patient from getting sick all over again.
Dealing with Pain
Antibiotics do not provide immediate relief from the pain caused by strep. For that, there is “Magic Mouthwash.” “Magic Mouthwash” is a mix of equal parts of viscous lidocaine, benedryl, and mallox. It is available by prescription only, and usually must be made by the pharmacy, though it costs less than $10 if the generic versions of the ingredients are used.
Magic Mouthwash numbs on contact, but since it contains large amounts of benedryl, it should not be swallowed. For those who are unsually sensative, Magic Mouthwash can also disable the gag reflex, which can make people feel like they are choking. Patients should use half or a quarter of the recommend amount until they know how they will react, or try natural sore throat treatments like hot water with honey and lemon juice.
Healthwise Staff. (2008, 8 August). Strep Throat: Topic Overview. WebMD. Retrieved 7 July, 2010 from https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/tc/strep-throat-topic-overview
MayoClinic Staff. (2010, 8 April). Strep Throat. MayoClinic.com. Retrieved 7 July, 2010 from https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/strep-throat/DS00260/DSECTION=tests-and-diagnosis