If you’ve ever had to say “aah” at the doctor’s office while he/she rubbed a swab inside the back of your throat, it is likely that a throat culture was being done. A throat culture is a test to find germs, such as bacteria or fungus, which can cause an infection and make you sick. Throat cultures are done by using a clean cotton swab to rub around the tonsil area in the back of your throat to get a sample of cells. Those cells are then added to a substance that promotes the growth of germs. If no germs grow, the culture is negative, and if germs that can cause the infection grow, the culture is positive. It usually takes one or two days to get the results.
Although the test can be uncomfortable for a few seconds (you will probably gag), it is incredibly useful for finding out if you have strep throat, which is caused by bacteria called group A streptococcus (group A strep). Group A strep lives in the nose and throat and can easily spread to other people. When someone who is infected coughs or sneezes, the bacteria travel in small droplets of water, which can get you sick if you breathe them in. You can also become sick if you share the same drinking glass or plate as someone who is infected, and in fewer cases, the disease can spread from touching sores on the skin caused by group A strep (an illness known as, impetigo).
While uncomfortable and painful, strep throat is a mild infection that rarely lasts longer than five days and produces symptoms such as:
- Sore throat that can start quickly
- Pain when swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or pus
- Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth
- Swollen neck lymph nodes
- Nausea or vomiting
Strep throat is treated with antibiotics, and its symptoms sometimes go away as soon as 24 hours after you start treatment.