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Health Information For Parents
A rapid strep test involves a quick throat swab. Within minutes, the test can show the presence of group A streptococcus bacteria, which can cause strep throat and other infections (including scarlet fever, abscesses, and pneumonia).
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that affects the back of the throat and the tonsils, which become irritated and swollen, causing a sore throat that’s especially painful when swallowing. Your child may get white or yellow spots, or a coating on the throat and tonsils, and the lymph nodes in the neck may swell and become tender to touch.
Strep throat is most common among 5- to 10-year-olds. Up to 20% of schoolchildren may be carrying the bacteria but show no symptoms, though they can still spread the infection. In kids, strep throat may cause body aches, headaches, stomachaches, nausea, vomiting, or listlessness. The infection usually doesn’t include other cold symptoms (such as sneezing, coughing, or a runny or stuffy nose).
Most sore throats in kids are caused by viral infections, which clear up on their own without antibiotic treatment. While strep throat sometimes can go away within a few days without treatment, doctors prescribe antibiotics to prevent related complications that can be serious, such as rheumatic fever.
The rapid strep test is done to help quickly see whether a child’s sore throat is caused by a strep infection vs. other germs (usually viruses) that don’t require antibiotic treatment.
A doctor may do a rapid strep test done if a child:
Sometimes, doctors do a throat culture instead of a rapid strep test. A throat culture is more accurate than a rapid strep test, but the results take longer (2-3 days) to come back.
Encourage your child to stay still during the procedure so the health professional can collect enough secretions for an accurate test. Be sure to tell your doctor if your child has taken antibiotics recently, and don’t have your child use mouthwash before the test as it may affect test results.
A health professional will ask your child to tilt his or her head back and open his or her mouth as wide as possible. Your child’s tongue will then be pressed down with a flat stick (tongue depressor) to clearly examine the mouth and throat. A clean, soft cotton swab will be lightly brushed over the back of the throat, around the tonsils, and over any red or sore areas to collect a sample.
Sometimes, two swabs will be used so the second swab can be sent for a throat culture if the rapid strep test results are negative. Swabbing will last only a few seconds. The secretions on the swab are then analyzed in the office or a laboratory.
You might want to hold a young child on your lap during the procedure to prevent him or her from moving around, which could make it difficult for the health professional to get a good sample.
Your child may feel like gagging when the swab touches the back of the throat. If your child’s throat is sore, the swabbing may cause slight pain temporarily.
Test results are usually available in about 15 minutes. If the rapid strep test indicates a strep infection, the doctor usually will prescribe antibiotics. Keep in mind, though, that up to a third of negative rapid strep test results are false (meaning someone actually has a strep throat infection even though the rapid strep results were negative). A throat culture may then be done to ensure accuracy.
Throat swabs can be uncomfortable, but no risks are associated with a rapid strep test.
Explaining the test in terms your child can understand might help ease any fear. During the test, encourage your child to relax and stay still so the health professional can easily swab the throat and tonsils.
If you have questions about the rapid strep test, speak with your doctor.
If you’ve ever gone to the doctor with a really sore throat, you may have had a strep screen.
Everybody’s heard of tonsils, but not everyone knows what tonsils do in the body or why they may need to be removed. Find out here.
A tonsillectomy is surgery to remove the tonsils. It’s one of the most common surgeries kids and teens get. Find out more.
The test for strep throat doesn’t hurt, but it might make you gag a little. Watch how it’s done in this video for kids.
This video shows what it’s like to get a strep test.
Meningitis is treatable, but can be serious. So it’s important to know the symptoms, and get medical care right away if you think that your child has the illness.
Sore throats are usually caused by viruses. Here’s what to do if your child has a sore throat.
A peritonsillar abscess is an area of pus-filled tissue at the back of the mouth, next to one of the tonsils. Find out how it happens and what to do.
Older kids and teens with tonsilitis sometimes develop this painful abscess, a pus-filled tissue at the back of the mouth.
Strep throat is a common cause of sore throat in kids and teens. It usually requires treatment with antibiotics, but improves in a few days.
Scarlet fever is an illness caused by a strep infection. It causes a red, bumpy rash that spreads over most of the body, and is treated with antibiotics.
Strep throat is a common infection that usually needs to be treated with antibiotics. Find out how to recognize the signs of strep throat and what to expect if you have it.
If your tonsils get infected, it can make your throat feel very sore. Find out more in this article for kids.
You wake up and your throat is swollen and you have a fever. Could it be tonsillitis? Find out what tonsillitis is, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.
Is your child having a strep test or a throat culture? Find out how these swab tests are performed.
Tonsillitis is an infection that makes tonsils swollen and red. It can cause a sore throat, fever, swollen glands, and trouble swallowing.
Strep throat gives you a sore throat and makes it hard to swallow. Find out more in this article for kids.
Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be caused by different types of germs, most commonly viruses. Read about symptoms and treatment.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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