Strep Throat in Adults

Although strep throat most often affects children, it is possible to have this throat infection as an adult. Strep throat occurs in up to 10 percent of adults who seek medical care for a sore throat. Symptoms can include a sudden sore throat, fever, and white patches on the tonsils or in the throat. Penicillin is the antibiotic of choice for treating adults with this throat infection.

Adults With Strep Throat -- An Overview

Strep throat is a type of throat infection caused by bacteria. Although it most often occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 15, it can also affect adults and younger children. Strep throat is most frequently diagnosed during the late fall, winter, and early spring.
Healthcare providers may refer to strep throat as acute streptococcal pharyngitis.


Strep throat is the most common type of bacterial throat infection. It is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria (GAS for short). The scientific name for these bacteria is Streptococcus pyogenes.
(Click Strep Throat Causes for more information about group A streptococcus.)

How Common Is It in Adults?

Up to 10 percent of adults who seek medical care for a sore throat are diagnosed with strep throat. Although common, strep throat is not the most likely reason for a sore throat. Up to 50 percent of sore throats in adults are caused by an infection with a virus.

How Is Strep Throat Spread?

Strep throat is contagious (see Is Strep Throat Contagious?), although most people do not get group A strep infections from casual contact with others. Instead, the bacteria are transmitted through contact with infected throat mucus, nasal discharge, or saliva.
This can happen when an infected person sneezes or coughs, and infected droplets spray into the air. The infected mucus can land in another person's nose, throat, or eyes, and enter their body.
Strep bacteria can also be spread by touching a surface or object that has infectious fluids on it. When the person then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes, the bacteria can be spread. It takes about two to four days after contact with the bacteria for a person to develop strep throat symptoms.
(Click Strep Throat Transmission for more information.)
Written by/reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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