Streptococcal sore throat - including symptoms, treatment and prevention

Streptococcal sore throat is a bacterial infection of the throat and tonsils caused by Streptococcus pyogenes.

How Streptococcal sore throat is spread

Streptococci are spread when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes small droplets containing infectious agents into the air. The droplets in the air may be breathed in by those nearby. The droplets may contaminate hands or objects such as drinking cups or eating utensils. Sometimes spread occurs by eating contaminated food. Sometimes spread occurs by direct contact with infected wounds or skin sores.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • sore throat
  • tender, swollen glands in the neck.


Complications of this infection may include:

  • Scarlet fever
    All the symptoms of throat infection plus a fine red rash, which first appears as tiny red bumps on the chest and abdomen. This rash may then spread all over the body. It looks like sunburn and feels like a rough piece of sandpaper. It is usually more red in the armpits and groin areas. The rash lasts about 2 to 5 days. There is often also reddening of the tongue and the bumps on the tongue appear larger than usual, causing an appearance known as ‘strawberry tongue’. After the rash is gone, often the skin on the tips of the fingers and toes begins to peel

  • Quinsy
    An abscess (collection of pus) next to a tonsil.
  • Rheumatic fever
    Rheumatic fever is a rare complication. Fever, joint pain and a skin rash develop soon after a sore throat. Later, inflammation of the heart (rheumatic carditis), or shaking and unsteadiness (Sydenham’s chorea or St Vitus’ dance) may occur.
  • Inflammation and reduced function of the kidney
    A rare complication.


Diagnosis is made by culture, or sometimes other tests, of a throat swab. A sore throat may also be caused by a viral infection and culture of a throat swab is the only way to distinguish between the two conditions.

Incubation period

(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)

1 to 3 days.

Infectious period

(time during which an infected person can infect others)

Untreated people remain infectious for 2 to 3 weeks after becoming ill. Treated people are infectious for about 24 hours after appropriate antibiotic treatment begins.


Effective antibiotic treatment is available. To prevent potential complications, the course of antibiotics should be completed.


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