Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat. Women can get strep throat during pregnancy, but being pregnant does not make a woman more likely to get it.
The common symptoms of strep throat are a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, and red or white spots in the back of the throat.
Anyone who is pregnant and thinks that they may have strep throat should see a doctor. Doctors can treat strep throat with medications that fight bacterial infections. Although it does not often happen, untreated strep throat during pregnancy can lead to serious medical complications in both the woman and the fetus.
In this article, we take a closer look at the signs of strep throat during pregnancy, along with what to do if this condition develops.
Strep throat pain often appears suddenly, usually 2–5 days after a person comes into contact with the Streptococcus, or strep, bacteria.
The throat will feel swollen, and it may be hard for the person to talk. They may also find it difficult to swallow foods and even liquids. At the back of the throat, white spots or pus surrounding the tonsils may be visible.
Other signs and symptoms of strep throat include:
Although many women feel tired more easily when pregnant, the fatigue that strep throat causes will be greater still.
One way to distinguish between strep throat and the common cold is that people do not typically get a cough with strep throat.
Strep throat occurs due to a specific type of bacteria called group A Streptococcus (GAS), or Streptococcus pyogenes. People often refer to the bacteria as group A strep.
A person with the infection can pass the bacteria on to other people in their saliva and droplets from the lungs and nose. If someone with strep throat coughs or sneezes and then touches an object, anyone who touches it shortly after can get strep. People can also spread the bacteria through sharing eating utensils, kissing, and shaking hands.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), group A strep is responsible for 5–15% of sore throats in adults.
Pregnancy is not a risk factor for getting strep. However, if someone already has small children at home or works in a daycare or school setting or another crowded location, they are more likely to come into contact with group A strep bacteria.
Strep throat is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15 years. The condition appears most often during the late winter and early spring months. It is rare for people to get strep during the summer.
There are many different types of strep bacteria. The group of bacteria that causes strep throat is group A.
Group B is a different kind of strep bacteria that appears in the vaginal and rectal regions of the body. Group B can be dangerous to a baby during delivery, so doctors will carry out screening for this type of infection during the last weeks of a woman’s pregnancy.
Strep throat cannot turn into group B strep.
Healthcare professionals can usually diagnose strep throat quickly using a rapid strep test.
First, they will use a long cotton tip swab and tickle the back of the person’s throat and tonsils to collect a sample. The doctor will place the sample in a container and mix it with a solution to check for the presence of the bacteria.
A positive test result signals that a person has strep throat and will require treatment.
If the result is negative, but the doctor still suspects that the person has strep throat, they can carry out a throat culture swab. This test takes longer as it involves waiting to see whether bacteria grow from the sample that the doctor takes. However, it can detect cases of strep that a rapid strep test may miss.
Throat culture swabs are more common among children than adults as children are more at risk for the complications of an untreated strep infection.
Pregnancy does not affect the treatment for strep throat, which doctors treat with medications that destroy bacteria. This class of medications is called antibiotics.
The first choice of medication to treat strep is penicillin, which is a pregnancy category B medicine. This category means that animal studies have not shown any evidence of the medicine harming the fetus, but researchers have yet to study the medicine in women who are pregnant.
If someone is allergic to penicillin, there are other safe choices that the doctor can use to treat strep throat.
Taking antibiotics for strep throat can prevent a possible but rare complication known as rheumatic fever. However, these medications will only shorten the duration of symptoms by about a day. Children and teenagers are more likely than adults to develop rheumatic fever.
In addition to taking the antibiotics, people may wish to try other measures to relieve the aches and pains that strep throat causes.
Women must get approval from their doctor before taking any over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, or trying natural treatments while they are pregnant.
Here is a list of some home remedies and management tips that could help lessen the discomfort of strep throat:
- Saltwater gargles (one-quarter of a teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water) could help. Take a comfortable mouthful, gargle for several seconds, and then spit it out. Do this once or twice a day.
- Sip a warm tea or soup broth. Adding a little honey, lemon, or cinnamon can help boost the flavor.
- Only suck on ice chips if they help. Otherwise, keep drinks slightly warm or at room temperature, and stay hydrated.
- Avoid citrus fruit juices, such as orange or pineapple, as these may irritate the throat.
- Use a room humidifier at night if the air is dry in the bedroom.
The best thing that women can do while they have strep throat during pregnancy is to rest. They will be extra tired because the body is fighting an infection. Tips for resting include:
- staying at home during the day
- only aiming to complete tasks that are necessary
- trying to nap when tired
- trying to get extra sleep at night
The only way to prevent getting strep throat during pregnancy is to avoid coming into contact with the bacteria that cause the infection.
Women should wash their hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, especially at the following times:
- after using shared items, such as shopping carts
- after touching door handles or elevator buttons
- after using the restroom
- after leaving medical offices
- when arriving home from work or being out
- before eating
A woman should also see a doctor about strep throat if someone else in the home develops the condition. Strep throat can easily spread among members of the same household.
The symptoms of strep throat during pregnancy are the same as those in nonpregnant adults. Most people will experience a painful throat, develop a fever, and see white streaks or red spots in the back of the throat.
People with strep throat need extra rest to allow their body and the medicine to clear the infection. During pregnancy, it may take a few additional days for the body’s energy levels to return to normal.
In most cases, strep throat gets better within a day or two after starting antibiotics. As long as a person finishes the entire course of medication, they should have no complications and feel completely better in a week.
If strep throat has not improved after 48 hours of taking antibiotics, pregnant women should speak to their doctor.