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Is it Strep, or Just a Sore Throat?

Is it Strep, or Just a Sore Throat?

Q: What’s the best way to tell if you’ve got strep or just a sore throat?

A: There’s no way for a patient to determine on their own whether they have Strep throat (caused by an infection with the Streptococcus bacteria) or a sore throat caused by another bacteria or virus.

The only way to know for sure is to have your doctor before a rapid strep test. This involves swabbing the throat. You’ll have the results in under 5 minutes.

Dr. Brent Ridge is the health expert for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. You can call and ask him a question live every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sirius Satellite Radio, Channel 112 (1.866.675.6675). You can also follow along as he learns to grow his own food and raise goats on his farm in upstate New York by visiting

Got a health question for Dr. Brent? E-mail him at

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Dr. Brent

As an undergraduate, Dr. Brent Ridge majored in public health and environmental science, studying the way the state of the natural environment impacts our health choices. As a physician, he specializes in the field of aging. Send your health questions to Dr. Brent at


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5:33AM PDT on Oct 30, 2014

Thank you!

12:43AM PST on Feb 6, 2009

I don't agree with the rapid strepto tests for home use because if you don't get the right sample you may have false-negative results!!Beside this, after you get a positive result, the right is to have an antibiogramma, to specify which antibiotic is 100% effective on the particular specie of streptococcus. You better go to your physician for an examination!!!

2:20PM PST on Feb 5, 2009

you CAN test at home--just do an internet search for "home strep test" there are dozens of suppliers, they may even be available at a local store. of course if you have a sore throat and a fever and a negative test you may still want to seek some sort of professional help, but it could be a useful tool, especially when evaluating what to do for a child who's judgement/description may not be wholly reliable, or to reassure yourself about a sore throat with no fever.

7:48AM PST on Feb 5, 2009

I had a mild case of Strep last week and when I first visited the Dr he did the rapid strep test and it came up negative. I already had some pus forming, so he decided to do a real throat culture (One that incubates for a few days). About 5 days later, after it all started to clear, I got a call from the office telling me I did have strep and I needed to go on meds. Even the dr's in the US let you suffer a bit too long. My advice, if you're prone to having strep and your "rapid" test comes up negative, ask for a real throat culture.

6:57AM PST on Feb 5, 2009

Disappointing to see comments from the UK system, but I bet it won't cost you $300 to findout you don't have it :-) My main comment is this however. While the rapid step test is Great for that strain it is not all encompassing of Strep bacteria. For example a very commen strain which my Dr. refered to as D don't know, but D and is the one that causes that very rank sinus oder eminating from people when they have sinus infections with step D is not caught by the rapid test. I have to ask the doctor to sepecifically test for that strain, but it is usally a dead give away by the oder.

Just FYI

6:10AM PST on Feb 5, 2009

Hi Pippa - I am shocked and surprised you have found that they do actually DO one!! I have never found that... and here they just wait, until you are in agony, with a throat that is full of pus... and then just LOOK at it and give you the antibiotics. Which means ... that sometimes.. you get the wrong antibiotics for the job, and you end up having to pay for and take another course of something else!!!

6:04AM PST on Feb 5, 2009

That is so true - trying to get a doctor in the UK to do a "rapid" strep test is impossible. They have to make sure you've suffered enough before they deign to do one!

5:57AM PST on Feb 5, 2009

In the US you might!! In the UK.... they just let you suffer on for ages ... and finally give you antibiotics after a couple of weeks!!

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