How Long Is Strep Contagious?
The contagious period of strep throat hinges on whether or not the infection, caused by the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria group, is treated with antibiotics. Generally, individuals with untreated strep can remain contagious for approximately two to three weeks, while those who receive antibiotics for strep cease to be contagious within 48 hours of commencing treatment.
When prescribed antibiotics for strep throat, it is crucial to complete the full course of medication, even if symptoms subside before the regimen is finished. Adhering to antibiotic instructions not only helps prevent complications but also curtails the spread of the infection.
In this article, we dive deeper into the contagious duration of strep throat and its treatment. We at TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track, also offer some tips to reduce the risk of contracting strep.
Strep Throat Contagious Period?
The contagious period for strep throat can extend a few days before the onset of symptoms, allowing asymptomatic individuals to unknowingly transmit the infection. For those receiving antibiotics, contagiousness typically subsides within 24 to 48 hours of initiating treatment. However, if strep remains untreated with antibiotics, it can continue to be contagious for up to three weeks.
Some individuals with strep may not display symptoms, making it less likely for them to transmit the bacteria, but not entirely impossible.
Identifying Strep Throat Symptoms
Strep throat presents with common symptoms such as a rapid-onset sore throat, painful swallowing, fever, swollen and red tonsils (sometimes with white patches or pus streaks), swollen neck lymph nodes, and occasionally tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth (petechiae).
The bacterium responsible for strep throat, Streptococcus pyogenes, is transmitted from one person to another primarily through saliva or bodily secretions containing the bacteria. Additionally, strep throat can be spread through actions like coughing, sneezing, and direct contact with infected individuals or contaminated surfaces like doorknobs, door handles, and utensils.
While it is theoretically possible to contract strep throat from consuming contaminated food or milk, such occurrences are exceedingly rare. Furthermore, there is no substantiated evidence to suggest that strep throat can be transmitted from pets to humans.
Several factors can heighten the likelihood of contracting strep throat, including:
- Age: Strep throat frequently affects children between the ages of 5 and 15, with cases in children under 3 being rare.
- Close Contact and Crowded Settings: Spending time in close proximity to someone with strep throat, particularly in environments like schools, daycare centers, or large gatherings, can elevate the risk of transmission.
- Seasonal Variations: Strep throat can occur year-round, but it exhibits seasonal fluctuations, with a higher incidence during late winter and early spring.
- Genetic Factors: A 2019 study discovered that children prone to recurrent strep throat often have smaller germinal centers in their tonsils, which are typically responsible for identifying and combating infections. Additionally, they are more likely to have family members who have undergone tonsillectomies (surgical removal of the tonsils).
- Weakened Immune System: Individuals with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to developing strep throat.
Antibiotics represent the most commonly employed medications for addressing bacterial infections, functioning either by inhibiting their growth or eradicating them entirely. In the case of strep throat treatment, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics like penicillin or amoxicillin.
In instances of penicillin allergy, your physician might opt for an alternative antibiotic from the cephalosporin family, such as Keflex (cephalexin), or select a medication from a distinct antibiotic class that does not share characteristics with penicillin.
It’s important to note that individuals who test positive for strep throat but exhibit no symptoms, often referred to as carriers, generally do not necessitate antibiotic treatment. This is attributed to carriers having a lower likelihood of transmitting the bacteria to others and an exceedingly low chance of developing complications.
Nonetheless, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional if there are suspicions of being a strep throat carrier or if someone in your circle is suspected of being one. This consultation will help determine the most suitable course of action.
The advantages of antibiotic use encompass the following:
- Shortening the duration of illness.
- Alleviating symptoms.
- Preventing the spread of the bacteria to others.
- Warding off severe complications, such as rheumatic fever.
Crucially, it is imperative to complete the entire antibiotic course even if you begin feeling better, as any residual bacteria can continue to proliferate. Failure to do so can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, potentially causing further harm to the body. In certain cases, this resistance can escalate into sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection.
Complications of Strep Throat
While infrequent, complications may arise following a strep throat infection, particularly if the bacteria spread to other areas of the body. These complications encompass:
- Formation of abscesses, characterized by pockets of pus in the vicinity of the tonsils.
- Swelling of the lymph nodes located in the neck.
- Occurrence of sinus infections.
- Development of ear infections.
- On occasion, the onset of rheumatic fever, which constitutes an inflammatory ailment impacting the heart, joints, brain, and skin, and can manifest if a group A Streptococcus infection is inadequately treated.
- A rare kidney ailment referred to as post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis.
When to See a Doctor at your nearest Urgent Care?
Although strep throat typically does not pose a significant threat, there are instances when it can lead to medical emergencies. However, such occurrences are infrequent. If you have strep throat and encounter any of the subsequent signs and symptoms, it is imperative to seek immediate medical attention:
- Difficulty breathing or experiencing shortness of breath.
- Sensations of dizziness, near-fainting, or loss of consciousness.
- Lips or fingers appearing blue or pale.
- Challenges with swallowing.
Strep throat can recur, and a prior bout of the infection does not confer immunity against future episodes. Although there is no available vaccine for preventing strep throat, individuals can adopt certain measures to safeguard themselves and others:
- Embrace meticulous hygiene practices, which encompass frequent handwashing with soap and warm water for a duration of at least 20 seconds, particularly after coughing or sneezing and before food preparation or eating. Additionally, it is advisable to thoroughly wash glasses and utensils used by an individual who is ill. Practicing excellent hygiene remains the most effective approach to prevent both contracting and transmitting group A streptococcal infections.
- If diagnosed with strep throat, it is crucial to remain at home and diligently follow the prescribed antibiotic regimen provided by your healthcare provider. Refrain from returning to work or school until your fever subsides, and you have adhered to the antibiotic treatment for a minimum of 12 hours.
Furthermore, it is imperative to complete the entire antibiotic prescription, even if you start feeling better, unless otherwise directed by your healthcare provider. This practice is essential in preventing the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a significant concern in healthcare.
Once an individual initiates antibiotic treatment for strep, they typically cease to be contagious within 48 hours. However, if someone with strep throat opts not to take antibiotics, they can remain contagious for up to three weeks.
It’s important to note that symptoms do not consistently indicate how contagious a person with strep is, as individuals with asymptomatic strep can still transmit the infection. When undergoing antibiotic treatment for strep, it is of utmost importance to complete the entire prescribed course, even if symptoms abate before finishing the regimen.
Adhering precisely to antibiotic instructions is instrumental in curtailing the spread of the infection to others and substantially diminishing the risk of complications, such as sepsis and the development of antibiotic-resistant strains.
TGH Urgent Care, powered by Fast Track, uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Strep throat.
- Pennsylvania Department of Health. Strep throat fact sheet.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis: all you need to know.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strep throat: all you need to know.
- Dan J, Havenar-Daughton C, Kendric K, et al. Recurrent group A Streptococcal tonsillitis is an immunosusceptibility disease involving antibody deficiency and aberrant TFHcells. Sci Transl Med. 2019;11(478):eaau3776. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aau3776
- Sykes EA, Wu V, Beyea MM, Simpson MTW, Beyea JA. Pharyngitis. Canadian Family Physician. 2020;66(4):251-257.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rheumatic fever: all you need to know.
This article, brought to you by TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track, is not a substitute for medical treatment and is solely intended for educational purposes. The information provided here should not be considered as medical advice. If you are experiencing symptoms, we encourage you to visit our nearest location for an appointment with a qualified medical professional.