Rapid Strep Test

Strep throat is a common illness that occurs most frequently in children. Rapid tests for strep throat, also known as rapid antigen tests, are extremely useful because they provide almost immediate feedback about whether or not a patient's symptoms are caused by the streptococcal bacteria.

The traditional test for the pathogen is a throat culture that takes two days to provide results. The traditional test is often performed in conjunction with the rapid test in order to confirm the diagnosis, especially since the rapid strep test can, at times, give a false negative result. The benefit of the rapid strep throat test is that it allows the doctor to begin antibiotic treatment right away.

Reasons for a Rapid Strep Test

A rapid strep test will most likely be performed if a patient is exhibiting typical symptoms of strep throat which include the following:

  • Sore, scratchy throat
  • Red, swollen tonsils, possibly with pus
  • Red spots at the back of the mouth
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Headache
  • Fever

The rapid strep test has special significance because for some individuals, including the elderly, fetuses and newborns, and those with certain chronic disease conditions, streptococcal bacteria can be life-threatening, making early detection essential. Streptococcus bacteria can also sometimes cause serious complications even in otherwise healthy people. These complications include sinusitis, ear infection, scarlet fever, skin infection, neuromuscular conditions, and toxic shock syndrome.

On the other hand, in some cases, the advantage of the rapid strep test is that it discourages the unnecessary prescription of antibiotics, helping to prevent the development of drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

The Rapid Strep Test Procedure

The method of obtaining a specimen to be examined is the same for the rapid strep test as for the traditional one. The doctor swabs the back of the patient's throat in the area of the tonsils to obtain a sample of secretions. The test is not painful, but is briefly uncomfortable because it provokes a gag response. The advantage of the rapid strep test is that the sample can be immediately examined in the doctor's office and does not require laboratory analysis.

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