The rapid strep test is a quick and accurate diagnostic tool used to determine whether or not strep bacteria are present in the patient’s throat. The same test may be used to evaluate for the presence of Streptococci in other infected areas (for example, perianal infection in either gender, or vulvar infection in pre-pubertal girls).
What is this test?
The rapid strep screen is used to test for bacteria called group A streptococcus. Group A streptococcus bacteria cause illnesses such as strep throat and scarlet fever – a rash that may occur after a case of strep throat.
Strep throat and scarlet fever can cause a number of symptoms, particularly a fever and a sore throat.
These illnesses are quite contagious and require antibiotics to treat.
Doctors have two ways to test for group A streptococcus. For the rapid strep screen, your doctor or a nurse takes a sample of cells from your tonsils and back of the throat and tests it right in the doctor’s office.
You can get your results in as little as five minutes. If the rapid strep screen is positive, you have strep throat and no further tests may be needed.
Why do I need this test?
You may need this test if your doctor suspects that you have strep throat. Symptoms of strep throat can include:
- Sore throat
- Painful or difficult swallowing
- Swelling or tenderness of the glands in the neck
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin rash
- Stomach ache
- Lack of appetite
- Tonsils that are swollen and red
- Patches of white on the tongue or throat
You may need this test to confirm you have a bacterial infection instead of a viral infection before a doctor will prescribe antibiotics.
You may also need this test if the results of a throat culture, which can provide a more accurate diagnosis, are unavailable for a few days.
Why is identification of streptococcal infection important?
Patients benefit both immediately and potentially in the long-term by rapid confirmation of streptococcal cause of their sore throat.
Antibiotic treatment provides a quicker reduction of symptoms, shortens the duration of illness and quickly, and efficiently eliminates the possibility of spread of infection to others.
Although rare, serious consequences of streptococcal infections do occur. Rheumatic fever is associated with heart, joint and nervous system damage and is preventable by rapid treatment of strep disease.
Serious kidney disease that may result in kidney failure may also be a consequence of streptococcal infection.
A throat infection due to strep needs antibiotic therapy initiated as rapidly as possible.
The rapid strep test facilitates this goal.
What is the traditional test for strep throat?
The traditional test for a strep throat has been a throat culture. The major drawback of a throat culture is that the results take two to three days due to the time necessary to allow enough GAS bacteria to grow to enable accurate identification.
Why is the rapid test better?
By comparison with culture methods, a rapid strep test is much quicker and can produce results within minutes.
What other tests might I have along with this test?
If the rapid strep screen is negative, your doctor may do another test called throat culture to make sure that strep is not the cause of your sore throat and other symptoms.
This test also requires taking a swab of cells from your tonsils or back of the throat. The sample is sent to a laboratory, where it is grown, or cultured, and tested for strep bacteria.
The results are available in about two days. Your results will reveal whether you have group A streptococcus.
Your doctor may also order:
- Influenza (flu) test
- Mononucleosis (mono spot) test
What do my test results mean?
Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem.
To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your health care provider.
Your test results will show whether you have group A streptococcus bacteria in the cells or mucus of your throat. A normal (negative) result will not show any group A streptococcus bacteria.
If the test is positive, that means bacteria have been found and you likely have strep throat.
How is this test done?
The rapid strep screen requires taking a swab of mucus or cells from the back of your throat. The doctor, nurse, or laboratory technician will gently swipe the back of your throat with a long cotton swab.
A second sample may be taken at the same time to be used in a throat culture if the rapid strep screen is negative.
Does this test pose any risks?
This test poses no known risks.
What might affect my test results?
Nothing is likely to affect the results of your test, as only the presence of group A streptococcus bacteria should give you a positive result.
How do I get ready for this test?
You don’t need to prepare for this test.