Strep Throat Must-Knows Ahead of Winter Illness Season

November 2nd 2015
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor

The CDC offers some advice on how to quickly and accurately distinguish strep throat from a sore throat.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some advice on how to quickly and accurately distinguish strep throat from a sore throat.

About 90% ofsore throat casesare caused by viruses from the common cold or flu, environmental irritants, or allergens. The remaining 10% of cases are linked to bacteria called streptococci, which commonly cause strep throat.

Diagnosing the culprit behind a patient’s sore throat early and accurately is crucial because antibiotics are required to eliminate strep throat-causing bacteria, while sore throats caused by viruses will normally improve without treatment.

Common symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Sore throat coupled with severe pain while swallowing
  • Fever
  • Small red sports on either the soft or hard palate on the roof of the mouth
  • Headache, nausea, and vomiting
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sandpaper-like rash

The most telltale sign of strep throat, however, is the presence of white patches or streaks of pus. Still, the CDC emphasizes that a “strep test is needed to tell if [a patient] has strep throat; just looking at your throat is not enough to make a diagnosis.”

Indiscriminatelyprescribing antibiotics to patients with viral infections is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance, which theCDC sayscauses 23,000 deaths per year and poses one of the mostsignificant challengesfacing modern health care.

The CDC also advises clinicians—including those in retail clinics—to remind patients about theimportanceof fully completing their prescribed antibiotic treatment regimen, since their infection could become resistant to antibiotics if it returns.

Early intervention for patients with strep throat is key to preventing the spread of the bacteria, which can be transmitted through contact with water droplets from the infected person.

Retail clinicians should also counsel patients on healthy habits to decrease their odds of catching or spreading strep throat, which include frequent hand washing and never sharing eating utensils.

The CDC notes that strep throat is much more common among children than adults.

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