Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Group A Streptococci. It is most common in children and teens, but it can affect adults too. The infection is spread through droplets in the air, so if someone with the bacteria sneezes or coughs near you, you could become ill by breathing in the droplets. It can also be spread if the infected person has the bacteria on their hands, they touch something (such as a door knob), you touch the object, and then bring your hand to your nose or mouth.
As with all infections, strep throat can trigger sepsis. Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Sepsis kills and disables millions and requires early suspicion and treatment for survival. Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.
Strep throat is quite painful for most people. It doesn’t usually feel like a “regular” sore throat. Signs and symptoms of strep throat may include:
- Painful swallowing
- Tender, swollen glands (lymph nodes) on the sides of your neck
- Red and enlarged tonsils
- Red and white patches in the throat
- Rash, may resemble sandpaper
- Body aches
Anyone can get strep throat but it is most common in teens, particularly when they are together in large groups, such as during the school year.
Aside from the infection possibly triggering sepsis, untreated strep throat could lead to:
- Scarlet fever
- Poststreptococcal glomurolenephritis, which is inflammation in the kidney
- Rheumatic fever
Diagnosis and treatment
Strep throat can often be diagnosed in the doctor’s office or clinic with a rapid antigen test, done after your doctor takes a swab from your throat. The test may also be called called a quick strep test. It’s possible the test is negative, indicating you don’t have strep throat, but your doctor may still suspect you do. If this is the case, your doctor will send another swab for a more detailed analysis in a lab.
Treatment for strep throat is antibiotics. It’s important to remember that you still are contagious until about 24 hours after you started the medication. Your doctor may also recommend that you take an over-the-counter pain reliever to help reduce the swelling and pain.
If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.”
Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.
Updated July 11, 2019.