Is Strep Throat Contagious?

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
February 10, 2022

Strep throat—also known as streptococcal pharyngitis—is a bacterial infection of the throat.

It usually comes on quickly and is painful. Most people who have strep throat also have a fever.

If you have it, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms, and to see a doctor for treatment. 

What is Strep Throat?

Strep throat is a common bacterial infection that causes a severe sore throat.

It often comes on suddenly with a fever of at least 101ºF.

It is different from other sore throats because, with strep, there are typically white or red bumps across the back of the mouth and throat.

What Causes Strep Throat?

Strep throat is caused by group A strep, also referred to as A Streptococcus.

It is medically known as streptococcal pharyngitis and is highly contagious.

It is easily passed to others by coughing, sneezing, shared dishes or utensils, hugging or kissing, and other close contact.

Strep throat is also transmissible from contaminated surfaces.

If you come in contact with a surface that has been exposed, you can get it if you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes without washing your hands.

Symptoms of Strep Throat

The most common symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Severe sore throat: Unlike sore throats that accompany colds, the sore throat that occurs with strep throat comes on faster and is often more painful.
  • Fever: Most cases of strep throat involve a fever of 101ºF or higher.
  • Pain when swallowing: You may experience a high level of pain while swallowing.
  • Petechiae: Small red or white spots often appear on the roof of the mouth or back of the throat.
  • Swollen tonsils: Along with the swelling, tonsils may appear red or have white patches or pus visible in the mouth.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Body aches
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes or glands

Who’s More Likely to Get It?

While anyone can get strep throat, it is most common in children between the ages of 5-15.

Infections are most common during the fall and spring, but strep throat can be acquired at any time of the year if you come in contact with group A strep.

How Long is Strep Throat Contagious For?

The incubation period for strep throat is between 2-5 days.

You are contagious during this time, even if you do not yet have symptoms.

You may still be able to spread strep throat until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours or until you have been on antibiotics for strep throat for at least a full day.

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How the Bacteria Spreads

Group A strep bacteria spread easily like other types.

You can pass strep throat on by close contact or shared surfaces.

How to Prevent Spreading Strep Throat

You can prevent spreading strep throat by being properly treated with a course of antibiotics.

In most cases, you will not be contagious within 2 days of starting antibiotics, even if all your symptoms are not gone.

You can also avoid spreading it by practicing good hygiene, frequently washing your hands, not sharing utensils, and not getting up close to others.

Strep throat is primarily spread through droplets from coughing, sneezing, or saliva, but can be spread from contaminated surfaces, too.

Practice frequent hand washing, avoid touching your face, and disinfect surfaces to reduce the transmission of strep throat.

Recovering from Streptococcal Pharyngitis

Strep throat recovery is straightforward when you are treated with antibiotics.

You should notice symptoms begin to resolve within 48 hours of starting antibiotics.

A few days after that you will likely feel back to normal.

You should still complete your full course of antibiotics to prevent bacterial resistance.

If you do not feel better after 48 hours of being on an antibiotic, let your doctor know right away.

This could mean that you require a different medication or other treatment.

When to See a Doctor 

You should see a doctor if you develop a sudden, painful sore throat accompanied by a fever. 

If you are having trouble opening your mouth normally, are unable to swallow fluids to stay hydrated, or are unable to speak these are signs of a potential emergency and you should go to the doctor right away. 

If you suspect strep throat, or there are white or red spots at the back of the throat and it feels painful, you should seek medical care.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to be around someone with strep throat?
Strep throat is highly contagious. If you are around someone who is in the contagious period, you could contract strep throat by being within range of coughs or sneezes. You could also acquire strep throat from a contaminated surface if you do not wash your hands thoroughly before touching your face. In general, it is best to avoid close contact with someone who has strep throat unless they have been fever-free for 24 hours or have been on an antibiotic for strep throat for at least a full day.
Do you stay home with strep throat?
You should stay home if you have strep throat until you are no longer contagious. This happens when you have been without a fever for at least 24 hours or have been taking antibiotics for at least a full day.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.

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