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Knowing the signs and symptoms of strep

Highly contagious illnesses are on all our minds right now. Like COVID-19, strep is an infection that is easily spread from person to person. But do you know the signs to watch out for and when to seek treatment? 

“Strep throat is a highly contagious bacterial infection in your throat and tonsils that leads to sore throat, painful swallowing and fever,” says Lucas E. Wilmore, D.O., a board-certified specialist in family medicine associated with Lewisburg Family Practice. “No age group is immune to strep, but it is most common among children between ages 5 and 15, particularly during winter and early spring.”

Strep is visibly distinguished by red or swollen tonsils that may feature white patches, pus, small red spots on the roof of the mouth and swollen lymph nodes. It is often accompanied by headaches, body aches, fever, rash and nausea. In addition, symptoms for children can also include runny nose, congestion and enlarged lymph nodes.

“If you or your child experience symptoms of strep, you should visit your primary care doctor or closest urgent care for testing rather than waiting for the symptoms to go away on their own,” Dr. Wilmore says. “Strep is an infection that needs to be treated quickly with antibiotics to prevent more serious infections from developing in the tonsils, sinuses, skin, blood or middle ear.”

During your appointment, the doctor or nurse practitioner will swab the back of your throat to test for strep. If the test is positive, you will be prescribed an antibiotic; if the test is negative, you will not be prescribed an antibiotic. (This is because antibiotics do not work on viruses like a cold or sore throat. To learn more about antibiotics, check out our blog on the topic.)

“If you are prescribed an antibiotic to treat strep throat, it’s imperative to follow the instructions on the prescription precisely — even once you start feeling better,” Dr. Wilmore says.

Strep is an infection that spreads easily — particularly when in close contact. Those with strep throat should stay home from work or school until they are no longer contagious and/or once they are no longer exhibiting symptoms. This typically occurs 24 hours after starting an antibiotic.

“Because strep is very contagious, if one person in your household gets strep, there is a high likelihood others in your household will develop it, too,” Dr. Wilmore says. “Like COVID-19, strep throat is spread via droplets in the air, so it’s important to regularly wash your hands, frequently disinfect surfaces and refrain from touching your face.”

Some people are more prone to getting strep than others. You may find that you or your child is experiencing strep throat frequently. If this is the case, talk with your primary care provider about ways to reduce your risk for strep, including the benefits of a tonsillectomy.

An official headshot of Dr. VertreesLucas E. Wilmore, D.O.,

is a board-certified specialist in family medicine. He is associated with Lewisburg Family Practice, which is located at 1090 N. Ellington Parkway, Suite 102, in Lewisburg, Tennessee.