By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – Sore, scratchy, or painful, the germ that seems to be causing the biggest pain in the throat right now is strep. It’s certainly not the only bug out there — but the past two weeks strep seems to outnumber flu, bronchitis, and stomach flu.

(credit: Dr. Dave Hnida)

So what do you need to know about this all-too-common bug?

First off, if you get an angry throat, what are the odds strep is the culprit?

For kids, a lot higher than adults.

We figure about one in three sore throats in youngsters are caused by strep, the rest are usually viral. For grownups, the chances run about one in ten.

Exposure obviously plays a role, especially when you look at daycare, school, and the workplace. If you’re spend time around someone with strep, the odds of you picking up are about 30 percent— in other words, it’s not a surefire guarantee you’ll catch it, but then again, I’d rather not spend my day in a cubicle next to a “streppie.”

If you do get exposed and catch the infection, the usual incubation is about 2-4 days.

In older children and adults, the typical symptoms include a sore throat, fever, headache, and occasionally an upset stomach. A rash may show up every now and then as well.

It’s very unusual to get a runny nose, cough, or pink eye with strep.

For kids 3 and under, a sore throat, and even fever, is actually not the norm for strep — it’s a runny nose, fussiness, and decreased appetite.

Testing is usually a rapid strep test, which has a rough accuracy of about 86%. So sometimes you need to throw together the symptoms, exam, and the odds are a culture is probably accurate when you and the doc decide you need treatment. Sometimes we will go ahead and treat someone with a negative rapid strep test as we wait for the 48-hour regular backup culture to be cooked just because they just fit the strep picture.

Now if you do get treated, you probably know the rule of thumb is that it takes 24 hours of antibiotics, on average, before you’re not contagious any longer. But remember, the 24 hour rule isn’t set in stone. If you’re still running a fever or just feel punk, it’s best to rest up and stay away from others.

A few other notes:

We’re not positive that you need to throw away your toothbrush after strep (or any other illness), but some studies have suggested you chuck it for a new one after 2-3 days of treatment.

You generally cannot get strep from your dog.

And finally, strep carriers tend not to give you a strep infection unless they are actively sick with the illness themselves (which is a little less common than the population as a whole).

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida


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