November 29th, 2010
08:43 AM ET

What are the chances my family will get my strep throat?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Question asked by Yvonne, Stone Mountain, Georgia

I recently got diagnosed with strep throat and am taking antibiotics. Will the rest of the family get it also? I had a sore throat but no fever. My husband and kids aren't complaining of any problems.

Thanks for your question. Strep throat (an infection of the throat caused by group A streptococcus bacteria, also called Streptococcus pyogenes) is most contagious starting a few days before symptoms show up and decreases after a person has been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours. The germs are transferred through close contact with the sick person's mouth or droplets from a cough or a sneeze.

There is about a 25 percent chance of spreading strep to household contacts. Your family members can try to avoid getting your infection by cleaning their hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as well as keeping their hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth.

Strep bacteria cause about 10 percent of sore throat infections, with the remainder being caused mostly by viruses. There are more than 100 types of strep, although they don't all cause throat infections. The illness usually begins within two to five days after exposure to the bacteria, so if yours was diagnosed more than about five days ago and no one else in your family is sick, they are unlikely to catch it from you now.

If it has been fewer than five days, people in your home should be on the lookout for fever, sore throat, redness or pus in the back of the mouth, swollen glands in the neck and possibly headaches, stomach aches or a rough rash. Cold symptoms such as a runny nose or cough don't usually accompany strep throat unless it's in a young child or the person also has a cold virus. Your doctor will probably advise that any family members with symptoms also get tested so that they can get antibiotic treatment if needed but avoid it if not.

Good luck, and I hope you feel better soon!

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