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Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat, and chronic strep throat occurs when a person develops several cases a year or is a perpetual carrier of the bacteria that causes the infection. Chronic cases can occur in children or adults, and while multiple cases of strep throat in one year seem highly unlikely unless a person has a chronic infection, it is possible to have different cases caused by different strains of the bacteria.
Atreptococcus bacteria cause strep throat, also known as streptococcal pharyngitis or streptococcal tonsillitis. This results in a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and usually a fever. Over one-third of the cases of sore throats in children are caused by this bacteria. Chronic strep throat is considered when several of these episodes happen in a year.
The best way for a medical professional to tell if a person has strep throat is to run a culture. This involves swabbing the throat and/or tonsils and then letting the sample grow in a special container. If the infection grows, the result of the test is positive. Results are usually ready in one to two days, but there is another test called a rapid strep test that is ready in 10 minutes. This rapid test, however, only has a sensitivity of roughly 70% compared with a sensitivity of 90-95% for a throat culture.
Some medical professionals suggest that chronic strep throat may be caused by immune deficiencies. One case study involved a child with recurring strep throat that was found to have too little protein in his diet. Once his diet changed, the infection went away as well. Chronic infections can also be a problem for people with immune deficiency diseases, such as HIV/AIDS. Vitamin and mineral supplements may help with the symptoms.
Sore throats caused by bacteria and those caused by viruses have similar characteristics and are difficult to tell apart. Most strep cases will be accompanied with a fever, a yellowish coating on the tonsils and swollen lymph nodes on the front of the neck rather than the back. In addition, sore throats caused by viruses are usually accompanied by a stuffy or runny nose and other similar symptoms. The rhinovirus, the virus responsible for the common cold, shares similar symptoms with strep but usually is not accompanied by a fever.
Since there can be multiple causes for similar symptoms, the best way to determine if a person has strep throat is to run a culture while the individual is showing no signs. This will allow a healthcare professional to determine if the person is the one in ten or more people who carry the bacteria even while healthy. This would make the argument for chronic infection, a full-blown case of which can be triggered by any number of factors.
Though many people rush into treating a sore throat, it is important to remember that just because you have a sore throat doesn't mean that it is strep. If you think you have strep throat symptoms, see your doctor and request a throat culture. Then you will be sure that you are getting the right treatment, whether you have strep throat or not.
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