How Do You Get Strep Throat?

At a time when sore throats and sniffles are as common as chilly mornings, you might wonder if those symptoms could actually be due to strep throat. After all, strep throat, caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, is very common, with tens of thousands of cases occurring in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC. Most of these cases occur in children and teens, but adults can also contract it — especially those who live or work with young people.

Usually, sore throats are caused by viruses. Strep throat, which can also result in a sore throat, as well as fever, pain while swallowing, and red, swollen tonsils, among other common symptoms, is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, which lives and multiplies in the nose and throat. Diagnosis is made either by a rapid strep test or by a throat culture test (via WebMD).

Strep throat is contagious and can be easily spread through close contact with an infected person. Talking, coughing, and sneezing can all send bacteria-containing droplets flying, where they can be picked up by someone in close proximity. Bacteria can also be transmitted by sharing household items like glasses or plates with an infected person, per WebMD.

Your doctor can test for strep and recommend treatment

That's why it spreads quite easily within households, daycare centers, and schools. Nipunie S. Rajapakse, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic, told Everyday Health, "Within a household, you may be sharing utensils or drinks. It's not uncommon that we'll see two kids from the same family with similar symptoms at the same time."

Antibiotics are typically prescribed to treat strep throat, to kill the bacteria as well as help prevent rare, potentially serious complications. But some doctors, concerned about the development of antibiotic resistance, caution against turning to them too quickly or just assuming a sore throat is strep. Aaron Glatt, M.D., the chairman of medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Hewlett, New York and a spokesperson for the Infectious Disease Society of America, explains, "It has to be the right person, the right time, and the right drug" (via Everyday Health). And Stanford Shulman, M.D., adds, "Antibiotics are wonderful when they are needed," but cautions that they should not be overused.

If you suspect you might have strep throat, talk with your doctor about getting tested. They can then help recommend the best treatment option.