Why Do We Treat Strep Throat?

February 12, 2017

If only life and medicine were simple concepts, always black and white and not include the myriad shades of gray…

Have you ever had a sore throat and automatically diagnosed yourself with strep throat? We see many . It has been estimated that 15 million people are evaluated each year for sore throats and that almost 70% of them receive antibiotics, but only a small percentage have strep throat – 20%-30% of children and 5%-15% of adults.

Strep throat is a bacterial throat infection that can cause your throat to be sore and scratchy. Many patients show symptoms of strep throat, but only few actually have it. Sore throats are more commonly caused by a viral infection, which do not require a course of antibiotics. Many patients do not realize is that strep throat is “self-limiting” and will typically resolve in 7 days, without the use of antibiotics. In fact, some studies done on patients with strep throat show that the sore throat does NOT get better any faster with antibiotics. And these studies even seem to show it may take LONGER for the sore throat to resolve if antibiotics are prescribed.  

So, why do we treat strep throat?

The reason strep throat is treated is NOT due to the actual throat infection, but rather in order to PREVENT Rheumatic Fever, a now rare infection on the valves of the heart.  If you show signs and symptoms of strep throat, a rapid strep test will be performed to determine if a strep bacterial is causing an infection. Throat cultures actually detect five different strains of strep, though the one physicians are typically concerned about is Group A beta hemolytic, because it is the strain of bacteria that causes Rheumatic Fever. The other four common types of strep do not cause Rheumatic Fever, and as indicated above, usually resolves in 7 days without antibiotics.

Sore throats are common among adults and children, but most sore throats are not caused by strep throat. So the next time you have a sore throat, consider your other symptoms like – runny nose, congestion, cough, etc. These may be an indication that your sore throat is a viral infection and not strep throat.



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