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What is a Strep Throat Test?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated May 17, 2024
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A strep throat test is a diagnostic tool used to confirm the presence of group A streptococcal bacteria-induced infection of the throat and tonsils. Requiring no preparatory measures on behalf of the individual being tested, the secretion sample is generally collected with either a cotton swab or throat wash. Depending on the type of test utilized, strep throat test results are generally available within a few minutes to a few days.

Individuals with suspected strep infection may present with a variety of signs and symptoms prior to undergoing a strep throat test. In addition to a sore throat, it is not uncommon for symptomatic individuals to develop headache, impaired appetite, and stomach discomfort. Generally, symptoms associated with strep infection manifest in the presence of a fever and swollen lymph nodes. A prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential to a good prognosis. If treatment is delayed or absent, a symptomatic individual is considered at an increased risk for complications, including the spread of infection, which can potentially lead to abscess development and the impairment of proper organ function.

Though suspected strep infection may be diagnosed with an evaluation of the individual’s reported symptoms and a visual examination of the throat, physicians will generally confirm the diagnosis with a strep throat test. In most cases, a rapid strep test is the first to be administered due to the quickness of test result availability. Frequently utilized when an individual is exhibiting tell-tale signs of strep infection, this type of strep throat test may also be used in the presence of a familial history of rheumatic fever where the individual remains asymptomatic in the presence of infection.

A rapid strep test involves the swabbing of the throat to obtain a saliva sample that may be tested for bacterial presence. Collected with a cotton swab, several passes over the throat area may be necessary to obtain an adequate sample of secretions. Once submitted for analysis, results are generally ready in less than half an hour.

Abnormal rapid strep test results confirm the presence of streptococcal infection. If the test is administered simply to verify a known case of strep, the individual has generally already been placed on an antibiotic regimen. It is possible for a false negative result to occur in the presence of strep infection, in which case a throat culture may be utilized to either verify or discount the initial negative results.

With the administration of a throat culture, the collected sample is submitted for laboratory analysis and results are generally available within a few days. Unlike a rapid strep test, the collected secretion sample is utilized to grow streptococcal bacteria. Culture test results are considered negative if the submitted sample fails to produce bacteria.

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