Sore Throat: Is it Contagious?

My child has a sore throat and we have something planned for the weekend. Is she contagious?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Sore throats may be caused by either bacteria or viruses.

Viruses often give symptoms like runny nose, watery eyes and cough -- but not always. Bacteria (strep) usually are not associated with these "cold" symptoms.

It is impossible to tell just by looking at the throat whether it is a virus or strep throat. You have to swab it. Currently, there are no antibiotics that work well against viruses that typically cause a sore throat. That's okay because the body gets rid of this on its own, so all you have to do is treat the symptoms like the pain.

Strep throat needs antibiotics to cure it. A person with strep throat is considered non-infectious after the first 24 hours of antibiotics. If your child has strep throat she should stay away from others until that 24 hours is up.

Viruses, on the other hand, are most infectious usually before you have symptoms, such as a sore throat so it is not necessary to keep your child home if she only has a viral sore throat. For many reasons I believe it is important not to treat a "strep throat" based upon observation alone. The throat should be swabbed for culture.

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