Strep Throat: What You Need to Know

strep throat, strep, Group A,

Group A streptococcus is in the news as officials from the Illinois Department of Public Health recently issued a warning about the bacteria that causes strep throat, scarlet fever and other illnesses – and which can lead to severe complications, especially in children.

“We are seeing high levels of strep cases here in central Illinois,” said Anna Richie, MD, clinical director of urgent care services at Memorial Health. “Our positivity rate is around 30 percent. That means that 30 percent of the people we test for strep in our clinics are positive. That rate is around 10 percent in a typical year.”

Group A strep bacteria cause a range of illnesses – some minor, some very serious. According to IDPH, invasive group A strep can spread aggressively from the throat to affect the blood, muscles and lungs. These severe infections can be life-threatening. But for most people, strep throat is usually a mild illness. Early detection is crucial, as treatment with antibiotics can stop the illness before it worsens.

“If you notice your child has symptoms of strep throat, it’s important to make an appointment to see your doctor or go to urgent care as soon as possible,” Dr. Richie said. “The earlier we start treatment, the lower the risk of complications – and the lower the risk that your child spreads the illness to others.”

Here’s what you need to know.

How does strep throat spread?
Group A strep bacteria spread through respiratory droplets and direct contact with an infected person. This can happen if you share a cup, plate or eating utensils with someone infected with strep, breathe in droplets created when they cough or sneeze, or touch something with those droplets on it and then touch your own mouth or nose. Wash hands frequently and make sure family members do, too.

What are the symptoms of strep throat?

  • Rapid onset of sore throat and painful swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils with white patches or streaks
  • Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes on the neck
  • Headache
  • Fever

But a sore throat doesn’t always mean strep, particularly if there are other symptoms. A cough, runny nose or other cold/flu symptoms are a sign that a virus – not strep bacteria – is likely to blame for the illness.

How is strep throat diagnosed and treated?
A doctor can diagnose strep throat in minutes with a rapid swab. Antibiotics are used to treat strep throat. It’s important to take all the antibiotics as prescribed, even after you start to feel better. People with strep throat can return to school or work when they no longer have a fever (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and have taken a day’s worth of antibiotics.

Can adults get strep throat?
Strep throat is often considered a childhood illness, and it’s true that it’s much more common in children ages 5 to 15 than in babies, toddlers or adults. However, parents of school-aged children or people who work closely with children in schools or day care centers are also at an increased risk.

Why is strep throat spreading so quickly right now?
Dr. Richie and other physicians say that as the precautions we took against COVID-19 – masking, frequent handwashing and social distancing – continue to relax, other illnesses are spreading more easily.

strep throat

“Unfortunately, it is possible to be reinfected with strep,” she said. “If someone in your household has been ill, be sure to disinfect frequently touched items and surfaces, wash their sheets and pillowcases and throw out their toothbrush.”

Urgent Care Services at our Memorial Care Locations

No appointment is required for urgent care services for non-emergency medical needs. Many Memorial Care locations offer urgent care services, which are available seven days a week, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Lab and imaging services are available on-site so patients have access to immediate care for all minor illnesses and injuries.

Urgent care services are easily accessible with the Memorial Care App. Here’s how it works:

  • Download the Memorial Care App or visit
  • Choose the nearest Memorial Care location with urgent care services.
  • Use the On My Way feature to let us know you’re coming in and for quicker help.