Strep Test: Throat Culture

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Parents

What It Is

A throat culture or strep test is performed by using a throat swab to detect the presence of group A streptococcus bacteria, the most common cause of strep throat. These bacteria also can cause other infections, including pneumonia, tonsillitis, and meningitis.

A sample swabbed from the back of the throat is put on a special plate (culture) that enables bacteria to grow in the lab. The specific type of infection is determined using chemical tests. If bacteria don't grow, the culture is negative and the person doesn't have a strep throat infection.

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that affects the back of the throat and the tonsils, which become irritated and swell, causing a sore throat that's especially bothersome when swallowing. White or yellow spots or a coating on the throat and tonsils also might be present, and the lymph nodes along the sides of the neck may swell.

strep throat illustration

Strep throat is most common among school-age children. The infection may cause headaches, stomachaches, nausea, vomiting, and listlessness. Strep throat infections don't usually include cold symptoms (such as sneezing, coughing, or a runny or stuffy nose).

While symptoms of strep throat usually go away within a few days without direct treatment, doctors will prescribe antibiotics to help prevent related complications such as rheumatic fever, and it reduces the length of time a person is contagious.

Why It's Done

The throat culture test can help determine the cause of a sore throat. Often, a sore throat is caused by a virus, but a throat culture will determine if it's definitely caused by strep bacteria so doctors can provide proper treatment.

Preparation

Encourage your child to stay still during the procedure. Be sure to tell the doctor if your child has taken any antibiotics recently, and try to have your child avoid antiseptic mouthwash before the test as this could affect test results.

The Procedure

A health professional will ask your child to tilt his or her head back and open his or her mouth as wide as possible. If the back of the throat cannot be seen clearly, the tongue will be pressed down with a flat stick (tongue depressor) to provide a better view. A clean swab will be rubbed over the back of the throat, over the tonsils, and over any red or sore areas to collect a sample.

You may wish to hold your child on your lap during the procedure to prevent movement that could make it difficult for the health professional to obtain an adequate sample.

throat_swab_illustration

What to Expect

Your child may have some gagging when the swab touches the back of the throat. If your child's throat is sore, the swabbing may cause brief discomfort.

Getting the Results

Throat culture test results are generally ready in 2 days.

Risks

Throat swabbing can be uncomfortable, but no risks are associated with a throat culture test.

Helping Your Child

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 adequately swab the throat and tonsils.

If You Have Questions

If you have questions about the throat culture strep test, speak with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: February 2012



Related Resources

OrganizationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
Web SiteLab Tests Online This non-commercial site was developed by laboratory professionals to educate caregivers, patients, and patients' families about lab tests.


Related Articles

Strep Test: Rapid A rapid strep test is done to help quickly determine whether a sore throat is caused by a strep infection vs. other germs (usually viruses) that don't require antibiotic treatment.
Pneumonia Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be caused by different types of germs, most commonly viruses. Read about the characteristics of various types of pneumonia.
Scarlet Fever Scarlet fever is an illness with a characteristic rash that is caused by a strep infection. Learn important facts about scarlet fever in this article for parents, including how to recognize its symptoms.
Tonsils and Tonsillectomies Not everyone knows what tonsils do or why they may need to be removed. Knowing the facts can help alleviate the fears of both parents and kids facing a tonsillectomy.
Tonsillitis Tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils caused by an infection, causes sore throat, fever, swollen glands in the neck, and trouble swallowing.
Strep Throat 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.
Meningitis Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord) is treatable, but can be serious. So it's important to know the symptoms and get prompt diagnosis and treatment.




Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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