A strep test looks for infection caused by bacteria called Group A streptococcus.
Strep tests are done to find out if strep bacteria are causing a sore throat. If the test finds strep bacteria, your healthcare provider will probably prescribe antibiotics. Treatment with antibiotics may help you feel better sooner than if you do not have treatment. More importantly, it also reduces the chance of more serious problems that can be caused by strep, such as heart problems from rheumatic fever. Most other common causes of sore throat do not usually need treatment with antibiotics.
The test is most accurate if you have not taken antibiotics before the test. Tell your healthcare provider if you took antibiotics during the 3 days before the test.
The strep test may be done in 2 ways: a rapid strep test or a throat culture. For either test your healthcare provider gets a sample by rubbing a cotton swab against a tonsil in the back of your throat. The sample is sent to a lab.
Ask your healthcare provider when and how you will get the result of your test.
Usually, a positive strep test means that you have strep, and a negative result means that you do not have strep.
Although these tests are very precise, they are not perfect. Cultures are more accurate and reliable than rapid tests. A culture may be done even though a rapid test is negative to make sure you do not have a strep infection. The strep culture test also provides more information than the rapid strep test. In addition to showing whether you have strep throat, it may show the specific kind (strain) of strep bacteria infecting your throat. It can help your healthcare provider know which antibiotic will be most effective in treating the infection. For this reason, your provider may not prescribe an antibiotic until the results of a culture test are back.
If your test result is positive, ask your provider: