Once a person has contracted the group A Streptococcus bacteria, they can become ill after roughly 2–5 days. A person will begin to feel better after taking antibiotics for 1–2 days.
This article discusses the most important information about strep throat, including how long it lasts and how long someone is contagious.
We also discuss treatments, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, ways to prevent it, and when to see a doctor.
The incubation period for strep throat is 2–5 days. In this time, a person could pass the bacteria on.
The CDC recommend that people with strep throat should stay home until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours and have been taking antibiotics for at least 1 day.
People who do not receive treatment can remain contagious until they are better. However, most people require antibiotics to recover.
People with strep throat require medical treatment to get better and reduce the risk of serious complications. However, the CDC state that those who do not test positive for strep throat do not need to take medication.
It typically takes a day or two for someone with strep throat to start feeling better after starting antibiotic treatment.
Call a doctor if symptoms do not begin to lessen 48 hours after starting antibiotics.
The CDC state that in most cases taking antibiotics reduces:
- the length of time someone is sick
- symptom severity
- the chance of spreading it to others
- the chance of complications
Even though someone may start to feel better within a day or two of starting antibiotic treatment, always take antibiotics exactly as prescribed.
Do not stop taking antibiotics early, as doing so might lead to more severe infections or complications.
Several at-home remedies may also help soothe a sore throat, most of which focus on keeping the mouth or throat moist and avoiding irritants. According to the National Institutes of Health News In Health, remedies include:
- drinking plenty of clear fluids
- sucking on hard candies or throat lozenges
- eating a popsicle or other frozen treats or cold liquids
- over-the-counter (OTC) medicated throat sprays with numbing or cooling compounds
- OTC pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- avoiding food or drinks that are too warm or spicy
- avoiding smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke
The CDC indicate that the most common symptoms of strep throat are a painful sore throat that can come on very quickly and red, swollen tonsils.
Other common signs of strep throat include:
- a fever
- tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth, often with white patches or pus streaks
- pain during swallowing
- swollen lymph nodes, often in the front of the neck
- stomach pain
- nausea or vomiting
- a headache
- skin rashes associated with scarlet fever
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that occurs due to a bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyogenes).
S. pyogenes belongs to a group of bacteria that grow in chains of spherical cells called group A Streptococcus.
According to a 2020 article, strep throat causes approximately 5–15% of sore throats in adults and 20–30% of cases involving children.
The CDC state that group A strep bacteria typically live in the throat and nose and spread through tiny droplets of infected mucus or moisture.
Even people who are not experiencing symptoms can spread the bacteria.
Most people become exposed to infectious mucus droplets by:
- breathing them in
- touching things contaminated with them and then touching the nose or mouth
- touching skin sores caused by other group A bacteria
- drinking from the same glass or straw, eating from the same plate or sharing food, using the same utensils
To diagnose strep throat, a doctor will examine someone’s mouth, throat, neck, and nose and ask them about their symptoms.
A doctor will probably ask if someone has come into contact with others with strep throat.
But the only way to definitively diagnose strep throat is to run a rapid strep test. This test involves a doctor running a swab along someone’s throat and then testing the sample using methods that detect strep bacteria within minutes.
In some cases, a doctor may also perform a throat culture, which involves culturing throat samples from a swab for a day or two.
According to the CDC, strep throat is more common in children, typically aged 5–15 years old.
Although it is more common in children, adults who may be more likely to contract the bacteria are parents of children who go to school or are in contact with children.
The best way to reduce the risk of getting strep throat is to avoid exposure to infected droplets.
According to the CDC, common prevention methods include:
- washing the hands frequently for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitizer
- avoiding touching the nose, mouth, or face
- avoiding contact with people who have contagious infections
- washing glasses, plates, utensils, and other items after someone with strep throat has used them or come into contact with them
People with strep throat can also reduce the risk of spreading it to others by:
- taking antibiotics
- washing their hands frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing or before preparing or eating food
- coughing or sneezing into a tissue of the upper elbow or shirt sleeve, not the hands
- placing used tissues into the trash can or garbage
- staying home when symptomatic
- avoiding sharing food and drinks, plates, utensils, or glasses with others
Complications are uncommon. However, if the bacteria spread to other parts of the body, a person can develop:
If a person develops symptoms or they know that they have come into contact with the bacteria, they should talk to a doctor as soon as possible.
Also, talk to a doctor about severe sore throats, or those that do not get better after a few days.
People should also talk to a doctor when swollen lymph nodes or a high fever accompany a sore throat.
The CDC state that most people with a sore throat have a viral infection, although strep throat accounts for 5–15% of sore throats in adults and 20–30% of sore throats in children.
Most people with strep infections start to feel better a few days after starting antibiotics. And many people with strep throat are contagious as long as they are sick, though taking antibiotics typically lowers this risk significantly within 24–48 hours.
People who think they have strep throat should talk with a doctor as soon as possible to get proper treatment and prevent complications.