On the Best Timing to get Tested for Strep Throat

On the Best Timing to get Tested for Strep Throat

Just today, a parent in the practice asked, "When is the best time in the course of a sore throat to get tested for strep?"   And then added, "You should make this the topic of your next email."

I agree.  So here it is.

The problem is one faced by many, many families.   You have a child with a sore throat and fever, when is it best to bring them in for a throat swab and strep test?

Two errors can be made.  The first is getting tested for strep if you don't have it.
The second is not getting tested for strep if you do have strep.

Now, the actual question put to me was, when in the course of a sore throat is it best to be tested?  This implies that one is more likely to be subject to either error if you come in too early or too late in the course of the sore throat.

For example, if it was true that it took 2-3 days of being sick with strep throat before a strep test would reliably be positive, then coming in for a strep test on the 2nd day of being ill would cause the test to say you did not have strep, when you did.

But, it turns out it is not true that it takes 2-3 days of strep illness before the strep test turns positive.

The way it does work is as follows:
  1. You are not infected with strep until the strep germ lands on your throat and begins to infect your throat.
  2. From the moment the strep germ lands on and infects your throat, you have strep throat.  From that moment on, a swab of your throat will yield a positive strep test.
  3. It does take some time for the germ, once landed and infected, to cause symptoms, usually something on the order of 1-2 days.  But even during this time, a throat swab could detect the presence of strep.
  4. Once the first 24-48 hours are passed, symptoms begin to appear, and may include headache, stomach ache, neck ache, sore throat, fever, and even a fine red dotted rash.  The rapid strep test stays positive throughout the duration of the illness.
  5. After a few days or a week, even if untreated, the infection begins to fade away.  The rapid strep test stays positive through the decline of the illness as well.
Bottom Lines
1.  The rapid strep test for the infection of strep throat can be done reliably at any point along the course of a strep throat infection.   Getting tested on the first day or a week later yields the same answer.
2.  If a family is wondering if their child has strep throat, it is OK to wait a day or two to see if the symptoms go away, as long as your child is not too ill or uncomfortable.
3.  Strep throat itself is fairly harmless, aside from the discomfort it causes.  The vast majority of strep throat infections do not even cause a sore throat, are missed, and never treated.  So the main reason to get tested is that if you have it, we can treat it and reduce the fever and pain.  That can be done at essentially any point along the course of the illness.
4.  The only timing issue that counts is that if strep is treated prior to 10 days of illness, a rare complication, rheumatic fever, is prevented.  So if strep is suspected, you have plenty of days to weight whether to get tested, but not more than 10 days.

To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

*Disclaimer* The comments contained in this electronic source of information do not constitute and are not designed to imply that they constitute any form of individual medical advice. The information provided is purely for informational purposes only and not relevant to any person's particular medical condition or situation. If you have any medical concerns about yourself or your family please contact your physician immediately. In order to provide our patients the best uninfluenced information that science has to offer,we do not accept samples of drugs, advertising tchotchkes, money, food, or any item from outside vendors.


  1. I thought this article was very helpful in explaining how step works. Most don't go as in depth. Thank you

  2. Nice.I have been using medications before but it only worsen the condition so now I would want to try something that's natural and herbal. Thanks for the suggestion. if you want more info about this topic then visit how is strep throat spread.

  3. Thanks for explaining the science behind the infection. I haven't come across another article this articulate :)

  4. It was a good article until you said it was harmless. Could you elaborate on that? I have included with this comment a section of a Medicalnet article which follows the belief I have always known. Sorry to seem contentious.
    The major reason to seek medical care for strep throat is that if it goes untreated or is not appropriately treated, serious complications can develop, and are

    ear infections,
    abscesses (retropharyngeal and/or peritonsillar),
    toxic shock syndrome,
    rheumatic fever,
    scarlet fever,
    autoimmune disorders, and
    kidney inflammation (glomerulonephritis).
    Early treatment of strep throat can help prevent these and other complications. Continue Reading


    Khan, ZZ. et al. "Group A Streptococcal Infections." Medscape. Updated: Aug 21, 2014.

    National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Is It Strep Throat?" Updated September 24, 2014.

    Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/7/2016
    Next: Distinguish Common Sore Throat from Strep Throat
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    1. Makes me so mad that stupid people that hide behind Dr. can post this and not lose their license. Strep is extremely dangerous and I appreciate your willingness to do the research and question this so people don't make decisions based on this ignorant recommendation. I just called him an asshole, ha. Thank you again for not being a sheep! People like this who post medical advice that don't really have a clue and people could die from taking his advice.

  5. Thank you for this explanation. I just got swabbed and am awaiting the results, but I almost didn't have it done because no one could tell me if there could be a false negative if tested too early. This article put my mind at ease!

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  7. Skita is correct. You should be ashamed of yourself posting this with the abbreviation Dr. underneath it. The fact that you even consider Strep A to be remotely harmless proves hat you, in fact, are an imbecile. Harmless? Yeah, death. Completely harmless. DO BOT LISTEN TO THIS INFORMATION. IT IS FALSE AND STREP CAN CAUSE EVERYTHING FROM HEART ISSUES, TO LOSS OF LIMBS, AND MEDICAL AND SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN TO CAUSE DEATH. GET TREATED BY A REAL DOCTOR. STUPID ASSHOLE PROBABLY MAKES SIX FIGURES OR MORE SPEWING THIS GARBAGE!

  8. I can't believe you actually post this on your "Advanced Pediatrics" practice.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this tips.. You may also check..
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  10. Also, in my experience, the rapid test is not always accurate. It gives false negatives alot of the time. I actually suspect that I have strep throat right now and I'm going to go to the ER because as far as my family, the rapid test has been unreliable!