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Strep Throat Test

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KEY POINTS

  • A strep test is done to find out if group A strep bacteria are causing a sore throat.
  • An untreated group A strep infection increases the risk for serious problems, such as rheumatic fever and heart problems.
  • Your child’s healthcare provider gets a sample by rubbing a cotton swab against the back of the throat. Ask your healthcare provider when you will get the results of your child’s test.

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What is a strep test?

A strep test looks for infection in the throat caused by bacteria called group A streptococcus.

Why is it done?

A strep test is done to find out if certain strep bacteria are causing a sore throat. If the test finds group A strep bacteria, your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics. Treatment with antibiotics may help your child feel better sooner than if your child does not have treatment. More importantly, it also lowers the chance of more serious problems that can be caused by group A strep, such as heart or kidney problems from rheumatic fever. Most other common causes of sore throat do not need treatment with antibiotics.

How do I prepare my child for this test?

Make sure your healthcare provider knows about any medicines, herbs, or supplements that your child is taking. Tell the healthcare provider if your child took antibiotics during the 3 days before the test because that can affect the test result. Don't stop any of your child’s regular medicines without first consulting with your healthcare provider.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions about the test.

How is the test done?

The strep test may be done in 2 ways: a rapid strep test or a throat culture. For both tests your healthcare provider gets a sample by rubbing a cotton swab against the back of the throat. The sample is sent to a lab.

  • If the rapid strep test is done, the lab looks for a substance made by group A strep bacteria in the throat sample. If the test finds this substance, the result is positive and it means that strep bacteria were in the sample. The result takes 10 to 20 minutes. Your healthcare provider may be able to do this test in his or her office.
  • If a throat culture is done, the swab is sent to the lab and tested for growth of the bacteria or other germs. If you have an infection, it may take 2 to 3 days to get the results.

Ask your healthcare provider when and how you will get the result of the test.

What does the test result mean?

Usually, a positive strep test result means that your child has strep, and a negative result means that your child does not have strep throat.

The rapid strep test is very accurate and reliable if it is positive. If it is negative, your provider may choose to send a throat culture to confirm that the result is accurate especially for children and adolescents. If the culture is negative, it is likely that your child’s sore throat was caused by a virus.

What if my child’s test result is not normal?

Test results are only one part of a larger picture that takes into account your child’s medical history, physical exam, and current health. Sometimes a test needs to be repeated to check the first result. Talk to your healthcare provider about your child’s result and ask questions, such as:

  • If your child needs more tests
  • What kind of treatment your child might need
  • What other changes you might need to make
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2016.4 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2016-10-27
Last reviewed: 2016-09-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright © 2016 RelayHealth, a division of McKesson Technologies Inc. All rights reserved.
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