Strep Throat or Sore Throat?

Updated January 2nd, 2024

What is Strep?

Strep (Group A streptococcus) is a type of bacteria (germ) that can cause many illnesses. The most common illness is also called “strep throat” or tonsillitis. Strep throat is different from other sore throats; there can be serious complications if left untreated.

What is the difference between a sore throat and strep throat?

 Sore Throat
Strep Throat
  • Caused by a virus
  • Starts more slowly
  • Red throat
  • Usually NO white spots (except with Mononucleosis)
  • Mild to moderate sore throat
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Hoarse voice
  • Red eyes
  • Runny nose
Note: Sore throats due to a cold, flu or other virus, will go away on their own. Antibiotics will not help and should not be given.
  • Caused by a bacteria
  • Starts very quickly
  • Red, swollen throat (tonsils) with white spots and tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Severe sore throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Nausea
  • May have a rash
      Note: Antibiotics are used to treat

How do you get strep?

Strep is spread from one person to another when the germ gets into the mouth, nose or eyes. This can happen when coughing, sneezing, kissing, or spending a lot of time near someone with untreated strep throat.

What should I do if I think my child has strep throat?

If you suspect your child has strep throat:

How is strep throat diagnosed?

  • To diagnose strep throat, your health care provider will take a swab of your child’s throat and test it.

How is strep throat treated?

  • Your health care provider will prescribe antibiotics.
  •  Your child should take all the medication, even if she seems better.

Why is it important to treat strep throat?

Your child will get better faster. Treatment can prevent spreading strep throat to friends and family and can prevent serious complications.

If left untreated strep can cause:

  • Serious infection of the tonsils, throat and lymph nodes
  • Scarlet fever- Strep throat with a rash on the body
  • Lung, blood, ear or skin infections
  • Rheumatic fever- Pain and swelling in joints, may cause heart damage

Tips for comforting your child (for a sore throat or strep throat):

  • Keep your child hydrated by offering plenty of fluids or breastfeed on cue.
  • Gargle with warm salt water
  • Let your child rest
  • If your child has a fever, dress your child in light clothing and remove any extra blankets.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol®, Tempra®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) are the medicines that can be used to reduce your child’s aches and pains from the fever and illness.
    • How much you give is based on your child’s age and weight.
    • Follow the medicine’s directions for how much and how often you can give the medicine to your child.
Safety Tips:

To avoid giving your child too much medication:

  • Use only the measuring syringe or cup that comes with the medicine. Kitchen spoons are not all the same and can cause overdosing.
  • Make a note of the time and amount you gave. Tip- your calendar or phone works great for this.
  • Write clear instructions for other caregivers about your child’s medicine. (What medicine, how much and when).

To keep your kids safe:

Choose the right medication for your child:

  • Do not give Acetylsalicylic Acid (ASA, Aspirin®) to children because it can cause a rare and dangerous disease called Reye’s Syndrome.
  • Do not give ibuprofen if your child is dehydrated, vomiting or has diarrhea because it can harm the kidneys.
  • Do not give over the counter cough and cold medicines to children less than 6 years old.
  • Check with your pharmacist if your child is taking two or more medications to make sure it’s safe.

Do you still have questions?

Call Health Links-Info Santé (Winnipeg 204-788-8200, toll-free 1-888-315-9257). You can speak to a nurse 24/7, 365 days of the year in over 100 languages to answer any of your health questions and to help you find services in your community.

Do I need to keep my child home?

  • If your child has strep throat she is contagious. Keep her home from child care or school until she has taken the antibiotic for at least one full day.
  • Keep your child home if she is still feeling sick after one day treatment and cannot participate.

How to prevent the spread of strep throat


Strep Throat, Caring for Kids
Sore throat vs strep throat -Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Do Bugs Needs Drugs – Alberta Health Services and British Columbia Centre for Disease Control
Group A Streptococcal Disease– Centers for Disease Control