Is It Strep Or Is It The Flu? Here’s How To Tell The Difference Between The Two Illnesses

Ad failed to load

In early 2018, 12-year-old Alyssa Lino Alcaraz passed away after her strep throat, which would go on to cause fatal complications, was allegedly initially misdiagnosed as the flu. Alcaraz's case makes it clear that it's important to know from the beginning how to tell the difference between strep throat and the flu virus; even in less extreme cases, knowing how to tell the difference between the two will help sufferers clarify symptoms, get more accurate treatment, and get back to full health faster.

Strep throat, or a streptococcal infection, is a bacterial infection that requires treatment with antibiotics, according to Medicine Net, while the flu virus can't be targeted with antibiotic drugs and is usually treated with antivirals or by supporting the body until the immune system fights the virus off. Both strep throat and the flu are fairly contagious when somebody is experiencing symptoms (though less so when they're not), but unlike the flu, strep is not usually characterized by coughing and sneezing, according to the Mayo Clinic. With both illnesses, you may experience a fever, nausea, and the chills, but there is one major difference between the two that can help you and your GP figure out the best course of treatment for your illness.

Ad failed to load

While many people with the flu report a sore throat, the soreness that indicates that you have a bacterial streptococcal infection comes from a very specific source, and is usually very visible, even to the unprofessional eye. Flu-induced sore throats may look a little red and inflamed, but strep throats possess another attribute: red and white spots all along the soft palate at the back of the throat. They're caused by the bacterial infection of the skin, and can occur on the tonsils and elsewhere. Strep is part of the same group of bacteria as flesh-eating disease, according to Medicine Net, and these patches represent bacterial damage. White spots, red spots, or pus in the back of the throat are all considered signs of strep. They're your first stop if you're trying to figure out whether you've got strep or not; strep itself is diagnosed via a throat swab at the doctor's, where the doctor will examine the antigens present in your throat bacteria and note whether strep is present, and give you antibiotics to treat it.

Another, more subtle difference between the two illnesses is whether you're sneezing and coughing. Sneezes and coughs are considered integral to how the body manifests flu, while they're exceptionally rare in cases of strep. (Or you may be exceptionally unlucky and have both at once, which does occasionally happen.) This includes all kinds of coughs, from dry coughing to chesty coughs that involve dislodging a lot of phlegm. If you are coughing or sneezing, remember to cover your nose and mouth and disinfect your hands regularly, as this is how the flu virus usually spreads.

Additionally, there's a subtle difference between the sore throat you get from strep, and the sore throat you'd get from the flu, though both are unpleasant. The sore throat that indicates strep is usually exceptionally rapid; it seems to come out of nowhere and develop strongly within several hours, while the sore throat associated with flu may come on over a period of days, and is likely going to be accompanied by phlegm. However, both will likely prevent easy swallowing and may influence a patient's sense of taste — and both often mean swollen lymph nodes, so patients will literally be dealing with a pain in the neck — but people who are unsure about what they're suffering from are encouraged to think about the timeline of their sore throat, and whether it appeared very suddenly, as that often indicates strep.

Ad failed to load

It's crucial to get to the doctor if your sore throat or fever feels like it's more intense than usual. If left untreated, strep throat can develop into other bacterial infections such as scarlet fever, or even potentially septic shock, so it's really important to make sure whatever you have gets treated in a timely manner. If you're feeling rotten, it doesn't hurt to go to an urgent care — your doctor there can do a strep test, which can give you definitive results back in 10 or 15 minutes, or diagnose your flu, which can potentially be made a little easier with antiviral medication. Don't delay getting answers that can help you feel better faster.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

Bustle's Editors On Jennifer Aniston + Adam Rippon

We've made it to Friday! It's been a pretty hectic week, and the news that Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux are splitting up might have put a damper on your weekend. But, if like many people you have Monday off, hopefully you can sit back and enjo…
By Rachel Simon

This Timeline Of Justin Theroux & Jennifer Aniston's Relationship Will Break Your Heart All Over Again

Just one day after Valentine's Day, actors Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux announced their breakup after seven years together. The celebrity couple, who were married for two-and-half years, separated quietly at the end of last year. This week, th…
By Priscilla Totiyapungprasert

19 Things Your Parents Told You Were Illegal In The '90s

Kids say — and think — the darnedest things. We have overactive imaginations, adults like to mess with us, and we don't always understand everything we hear. That's why some kids call strawberries "straw babies" — a boo-boo so adorable, you don't eve…
By Megan Grant

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

I Never Want To Write This Essay Again

I don't know where you were when you heard about Wednesday's high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I don't know what you were doing, or how you tried to process the news. I do know this: you thought to yourself, not again. And yet, again. Of cou…
By Jenny Hollander

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

A Study Suggests Drinking Soda Can Affect Your Fertility — But Don’t Freak Out Just Yet

An awful lot of things can affect fecundability — that is, the probability of conceiving within a single menstrual cycle — but can soda really decrease your chances of getting pregnant? A new study suggests that it might, although it turns out that t…
By Lucia Peters

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Money Actually CAN Buy Happiness — And Science Figured Out Exactly How Much It Costs

You’ve probably heard the saying “Money can’t buy happiness.” Personally, I’d be more than willing to test out that hypothesis myself, but researchers at Purdue University beat me to it. Researchers found that there is an actual amount of money it ta…
By Katie Mitchell

Kate Middleton Made Sales Of This $1 Secret Accessory Spike & She'll Turn You Into A Believer

There's a royal epidemic going on, people. It's one that causes any and everyone to obsess over the royal family's wardrobe and beauty routines, even if it means breaking the bank to look like them. So a frenzy was expected when Kate Middleton report…
By Summer Arlexis

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

These 10 Drugstore Red Lipsticks Are Under $10 & Actually *Amazing*

I adore makeup. There are few things I like more than getting myself fancied up in the mornings. It's a little ritual I get to do every day that makes me feel prettier and more put together. When my makeup is on, I'm ready to face the world — pun int…
via Romper

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper