Is strep throat contagious? You bet it is.
Strep throat, or streptococcal pharyngitis, is the ultimate sore throat, and a major annoyance that affects the tonsils and throat. It is a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria, leading to inflammation and irritation that cause the throat to become extremely sore.
Strep throat is especially common in children between the ages of five and 15, but it can also occur in adults at any age. It is estimated that the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria cause about 15% to 40% of sore throats in children, with about five to 10% of those sore throats developing into strep throat.
Is Strep Throat Contagious? How Does it Spread?
Want to know how strep throat spreads? Strep throat is contagious in much the same way as the flu or common cold. Coughing, sneezing, kissing, sharing food, skin-to-skin contact, and even breathing can spread strep throat, as infected droplets travel through the air or remain on surfaces.
Children have a greater risk of developing strep throat since they are frequently in close proximity to each other, including places such as daycare centers, schools, and even at home; there is about a 25% chance that strep throat will develop at home. On occasion, food-borne outbreaks may also lead to strep throat.
How Long Is Strep Throat Contagious?
How long does strep throat last? Strep throat is at its most contagious a few days before symptoms show up, though the severity of strep throat symptoms will depend on the person. The condition lasts for about three to four weeks in those who are untreated, even if the person doesn’t experience any of the symptoms linked with strep throat.
Those who do undergo antibiotic treatment for strep throat won’t be contagious starting 24 hours after beginning the therapy. Without the right treatment, strep throat can potentially spread to other areas of the body and cause sinusitis, middle ear infections, toxic shock syndrome, and lymph node infections.
People at greater risk of strep throat include those who are prone to stress, lack sleep, and have weakened immune systems. Frequent strep throat infections may also be caused by pollution such as tobacco smoke, as well as dryness, acid reflux, throat strain, and environmental allergies including mold, animal dander, and pollen. Strep throat is also more common during the colder times of the year.
How to Recognize That You Have Strep Throat
How can you tell if you have strep throat? There are some instantly recognizable strep throat symptoms that should be kept in mind. The most common symptom is a red, inflamed, and sore throat with white patches that may occur along the tonsils. The person may also experience a sudden increase in fever that rises to 102 degrees Fahrenheit and greater. There may also be tender and swollen lymph nodes at the upper neck region. The following are other common symptoms associated with strep throat:
- Nausea, vomiting, or upset stomach
- Abdominal pain
- A loss of appetite
- Skin rash
Natural Home Remedies for Strep Throat
Taking antibiotics on a regular basis is also thought to increase a person’s risk of becoming antibiotic resistant to certain bacteria. Luckily, there are various natural strep throat home remedies. The following are a number of natural ways to treat strep throat.
- Vitamin C: According to studies, there is a relationship between vitamin C deficiency and strep throat. Taking vitamin C supplementation will enhance the immune system and benefit those with strep throat due to allergies. Vitamin C is also considered a good remedy for the common cold or flu.
- Goldenseal: Goldenseal is considered a well-respected herbal remedy for immune support during strep throat infections. The berberine alkaloid in goldenseal uses antibiotic activity against the streptococci bacteria. Berberine has also been shown to inhibit group A streptococci on pharyngeal epithelial cells. The combination of goldenseal and echinacea help to enhance immunity by containing antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- South African Geranium: South African Geranium plant extract has been found to be beneficial for upper respiratory infections. It has also demonstrated antibacterial and immune-enhancing effects, and can prevent the bond of bacteria to epithelial cells. In a double-blind study published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in 2003, researchers found South African Geranium extract shortened the duration of acute non-group-A beta hemolytic strep (non-GABHS) tonsillopharyngitis by at least two days. Although the study looked at non-GABHS, it did promote the possibility that South African Geranium may benefit group-A strep throat.
- Licorice Root: Licorice root has long been used for strep throat and sore throats. A study published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia in 2009 found that patients who gargled licorice root mixed with water after throat surgery had soothed throats and decreased coughing.
- Honey: Honey is thought to soothe a sore throat. It’s a good idea to mix unpasteurized honey with your favorite tea to help with strep throat. In a study published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine in 2007, researchers found that honey was better at treating upper respiratory infections than common cough suppressants. It can also help with sleep problems due to an upper respiratory tract infection.
- Other Herbs and Remedies: There are also other remedies and herbs used for strep and sore throats, including lomatium dissectum, slippery elm, sage, peppermint, marshmallow root, grape seed extract, pine bark extract, mixed citrus bioflavonoids, thymus extract, oil of oregano, pelargonium sidoides, andrographis paniculata, garlic, vitamin A, and zinc lozenges.
- Homeopathy: Homeopathic remedies also offer natural relief for strep throat and sore throats. For instance, aconitum napellus is a common remedy for sudden sore throats. Phytolacca is another remedy recommended for sore throats when there are also swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Other homeopathic remedies used for sore throats include kali bichromicum, lachesis muta, hepar sulphuris, mercurius, belladonna, apis mellifica, ferrum phosphoricum, lycopodium, mercurius solubilis or vivus, and sulphur.
Strep Throat Prevention
There are also a number of ways to prevent strep throat:
- Keep your dishes, utensils, and drinking glasses away from infected individuals during mealtimes.
- Avoid sharing food, drinks, towels, or napkins.
- Avoid others infected with strep throat in general, and wash your hands on a regular basis.
- Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing.
- Dehydrating substances such as caffeine and alcohol should be avoided, as well as dairy products and foods high in sugar.
- Avoid all pollution, including cigarette smoke.
- Gargle with warm salt water three times per day; use a half teaspoon of salt in a full glass of water.
When to See the Doctor
Seek medical attention if a fever accompanies your sore throat, and if treatment for strep throat has failed to improve the condition after four to five days. Visit the emergency department if you have strep throat along with the following symptoms:
- Redness or swelling of the neck
- Breathing difficulties
- Difficulty (or inability) to swallow liquids, food, or even saliva (drooling)
- Problems opening the mouth
- Bleeding in the throat
- Making noises while breathing
These symptoms may indicate other conditions such as retropharyngeal abscess, tracheitis, epiglottitis, and peritonsillar abscess.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Balch, J., et al., Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 499–502.
Murray, M., N.D., et al, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: Third Edition (New York: First Atria Paperback, 2012), 967–970.
Paul, I.M., et al., “Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents,” Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 2007; 161(12): 1,140–1,146.
Agarwal, A., et al., “An Evaluation of the Efficacy of Licorice Gargle for Attenuating Postoperative Sore Throat: A Prospective, Randomized, Single-Blind Study,” Anesthesia & Analgesia, 2009; 109(1): 77-81, doi: 10.1213/ane.0b013e3181a6ad47.
Bereznoy, V.V., et al., “Efficacy of extract of Pelargonium sidoides in children with acute non-group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus tonsillopharyngitis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 2003; 9(5): 68–79.
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