How Long Is Strep Throat Contagious?

Strep throat is an illness that is common in childhood, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging for parents — and their kids — to deal with. Strep throat comes with a number of unpleasant symptoms, and you’ll need to keep your child home from school or daycare. What causes strep throat, what are the most common symptoms, and how long is it contagious? 

What Is Strep Throat Caused By? 

Strep throat is a painful infection in the throat caused by streptococcal bacteria. This type of bacteria is extremely contagious and can be spread by coughing, sneezing, or sharing food and drinks. If your child touches a surface with the bacteria, like a doorknob, and then touches their mouth or nose, the bacteria may also spread this way. Often, a person may be carrying strep without exhibiting any symptoms. 

What Are the Symptoms of Strep Throat? 

The primary symptom of strep throat is a sore, scratchy throat. However, this is typically not mild in nature. Most strep throat pain is severe. The illness is almost always accompanied by a high fever, and it can also result in body aches, headaches, or nausea and vomiting. Nausea is more common in children than adults who contract the illness. Strep throat is also indicated by swollen lymph nodes in the neck and red or white patches on the back of the throat or tonsils. 

How Is Strep Throat Treated? 

Strep throat is usually treated with antibiotics. Since it is a bacterial infection, it will not “run its course” like viral illnesses. Left untreated, streptococcal bacteria can cause inflammation of the kidneys, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever and a specific type of arthritis. Symptoms can be alleviated some with over-the-counter pain relievers, eating soft foods, gargling with warm, salty water several times a day, and getting lots of rest. In cases in which very young children have contracted strep throat, or if throat pain is so severe that eating and drinking are not possible, a visit to the hospital may be necessary so fluids can be given intravenously and your child can be monitored. Recurring strep throat may be treated with a tonsillectomy, which is a simple outpatient procedure to remove the tonsils and adenoids. 

How Long Is Strep Throat Contagious? 

Unfortunately, streptococcal bacteria spread quickly, and individuals with strep throat can be contagious for up to a few days before they start showing symptoms. This means that someone who has not gotten sick yet can spread the disease. Once your child begins to show symptoms, they will continue to be contagious until they begin antibiotic treatment. After 24 hours of antibiotic treatment, strep throat is usually no longer contagious. Antibiotics can make your child feel better quickly as the bacteria begin to die off, but it’s important to finish the antibiotic treatment, even if your child seems well again. 

Suspect Strep Throat? Call the Doctor 

If your child begins to show the symptoms of strep throat, you’ll need to call the doctor and make an appointment for a sick visit. Strep throat will not resolve on its own and can cause complications if left untreated. When caught early, strep throat is usually easier to manage, and the infection is short-lived. This means less downtime for your child and less time out of school or daycare. 

At Penguin Pediatrics, we see many cases of strep throat every year, especially during cold and flu season. We will perform a strep throat test, or a throat swab, to determine if streptococcal bacteria are the cause of your child’s illness. If the test is positive, our physicians will prescribe antibiotics and discuss home care routines to help your child feel better. If your child has any medication allergies or has had reactions to certain antibiotics in the past, be sure to let your doctor know so the correct antibiotic can be given. 

Request an appointment online or call us at (571) 253-6421 (Ashburn location); or (571) 253-6842 (Stone Ridge location). We look forward to helping your children get back on their feet!

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