Tips to Prevent the Spread of Strep Throat

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Strep throat is an infection caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus, whose scientific name is Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyogenes). It is a contagious condition that affects the throat and tonsils (organs in the back of your throat that assist immune functions). While anyone can get strep throat, it is most common in children ages 5 to 15.

You can get strep throat when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes around you. These airborne droplets can linger in the air, causing them to land in your eyes, nose, and mouth, or they can be breathed in through your nose.

You can also get the infection by touching contaminated surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs and door handles, and sharing food, drinks, and utensils.

Child with strep throat visits healthcare provider with parent

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Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment. Although rare, untreated strep throat may lead to serious complications, especially if you are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system) or are pregnant.

This article will discuss how to prevent strep throat, including what to do if you have strep throat and don't want to spread it to others and what to do if you feel the onset of symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Strep Throat

If you suspect that you have strep throat, look for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Scratchy or itchy sore throat (begins rapidly)
  • Severe pain when swallowing or speaking
  • A low-grade fever
  • Small, red bumps on the roof of your mouth (petechiae)
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Swollen tonsils sometimes with pus (thick, white fluid)


How to Prevent Strep Throat

There are several ways to protect yourself from getting strep throat, such as by washing your hands, using hand sanitizer, avoiding sharing personal items, and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Although there are currently no vaccines to prevent strep throat, adopting these good practices can effectively protect you and your loved ones from getting a new or recurring infection.

Wash Your Hands

Washing your hands is the gold standard for protecting yourself from getting sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to hum or sing the entire "Happy Birthday" song twice) with warm water and soap at the following times:

  • Before, during, and after prepping food, especially raw meat, poultry, and seafood
  • After touching surfaces (doorknobs, handles, keyboards, and light switches)
  • After using the restroom
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • After taking out the trash
  • After touching your pets and handling pet food
  • After handling gardening supplies (soil and mulch)
  • After changing a child's diapers or caring for a sick child

Use Hand Sanitizer

When you can't use soap and water, use a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill the germs on your hands. While hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs from your hands, they effectively remove a majority of them.

However, hand sanitizers do not take off soil, dirt, or chemicals from your hands. As such, hand sanitizers should come second to handwashing, as washing can remove dirt and grease.

Don't Share Personal Items

Personal items include utensils, food, drinks, toothbrushes, masks, or face cloths that can spread germs from person to person. When you share these items with someone who has strep throat, bacteria can enter your body when you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Cover Your Mouth

Practice good hygiene by covering your nose or mouth with a tissue when you sneeze, cough, or blow your nose. This will reduce the spread of respiratory droplets that can remain airborne for some time. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow.

Make sure to wash your hands or use a 60% alcohol-based sanitizer afterward and dispose of tissues in the waste bin.

How to Prevent the Spread of Strep Throat

You can prevent the spread of strep throat by taking the full course of antibiotics that your healthcare provider prescribes, staying home from work or school if you're sick, getting enough rest, and protecting others in your home.

Take Antibiotics

Antibiotics reduce the amount of bacteria in your body by preventing their growth or killing them. These medications only work for bacterial infections and are commonly used to treat a strep throat infection.

With the proper treatment, you should feel better after 24–48 hours, in which you are no longer contagious. The two most commonly used antibiotics to treat strep throat are penicillin and Amoxil (amoxicillin), a form of penicillin.

If you are allergic to penicillin, your healthcare provider may prescribe the following antibiotics instead:

  • Biaxin (clarithromycin)
  • Cleocin (clindamycin)
  • Keflex (cephalexin)
  • Zithromax (azithromycin)

The Importance of Finishing Your Antibiotics

If your healthcare provider prescribes you antibiotics, it is important to finish your medication to its entirety, even if you are feeling better. If you stop taking your medication as directed, any remaining bacteria in your body can continue to multiply. When this happens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria can form, causing harm to the body.

In some cases, inadequately treated strep throat can develop life-threatening conditions, such as sepsis (a whole-body reaction to a blood infection) or rheumatic fever (an inflammatory disease that develops after a strep infection).

Stay Home From Work or School

Because strep throat is highly contagious, prevent the spread of the infection by staying home from work or school until your fever passes or 12 hours after taking antibiotics.

Also disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as cell phones, keyboards, and toilet handles by using disinfectant sprays or wipes. If you do not have either, make your own disinfectant by mixing isopropyl alcohol (60% or more) with distilled water.

Rest

Getting enough sleep is essential for boosting your immune system when you're sick. The CDC recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep within a 24-hour period to prevent illness.

In fact, studies show that the lack of sleep (such as sleeping only four hours in a 24-hour period) leads to a higher risk of infections by producing inflammatory cytokines (small proteins that regulate immune cells). When inflammatory cytokines are produced, they promote inflammation in the body.

Protect Others in Your Home

You can protect your loved ones from getting strep throat with the practices listed above. These include washing your hands frequently, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, not sharing personal items, and covering your mouth when you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose.

In addition, frequently wash clothes and bed linens using hot water. For colored clothing, consider adding to your wash cycle a cup of distilled white vinegar, which kills bacteria.

How to Prevent Strep Throat When You Feel it Coming

You may be contagious for a few days (typically two to three days) before symptoms appear. If you feel strep throat coming on, stay home and limit your exposure to people, especially children, and those who are immunocompromised or pregnant.

Adopt the wait-and-watch period by monitoring your earliest symptoms, including a scratchy or itchy throat and severe pain in the throat when swallowing or speaking.

Keep in mind that not everyone experiences symptoms with a strep throat infection. However, if you believe you were exposed to someone with strep throat, consider seeing your healthcare provider to get tested.

Getting the appropriate treatment is imperative to keeping you and your loved ones safe. If your infection is left untreated, you can be contagious for two to three weeks.

Summary


Strep throat is an infection caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus. It is a contagious condition that affects the throat and tonsils. While anyone can get strep throat, it is most common in children.

You can get strep throat when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes around you. You can also get the infection by touching contaminated surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs and door handles, and sharing food, drinks, and utensils.

There are several ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from getting strep throat, such as by washing your hands, using hand sanitizer, avoiding sharing personal items, and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

A Word From Verywell

Strep throat is a highly preventable infection. However, if you test positive for strep throat, be sure to rest, eat well, and follow your healthcare provider's suggested treatment regime.

If you are prescribed antibiotics, you'll likely feel better within 24 to 48 hours of taking them. Keep in mind that even when you start to feel better, it's important to finish all your medication to prevent the risk of developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

That said, it's rare to develop serious complications from a case of strep throat, but it can happen, especially if you are immunocompromised. If your symptoms do not improve or if they get worse, consult your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What kills Streptococcus naturally?

    Studies show that natural ingredients, such as oregano oil, garlic, honey, and apple cider vinegar, contain antimicrobial properties that can kill bacteria like Streptococcus. However, these are not replacements for antibiotics, which can cure the infection and prevent its spread.

  • What vitamins help prevent strep throat?

    If you have strep throat, taking vitamin C supplements may ensure you have enough to support your immune system. You can also eat vitamin C–rich foods, such as cantaloupe, orange, strawberries, kiwi, kale, and bell peppers.

    These should not replace antibiotics, which cure the infection, though. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking large doses of any vitamin or natural supplement, as they may interfere with some medications.

  • Can strep throat go away on its own?

    Although strep throat can go away on its own within three to seven days without treatment, you can remain contagious for up to two to three weeks. If you suspect that you have a strep throat infection, consult your healthcare provider. In rare cases, serious complications can occur, especially if you are immunocompromised.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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