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Sore throat: This is how bacterial and viral infections can be differentiated
Sore throat is a common symptom of upper respiratory tract infections. They often announce colds and flu. Either viruses or bacteria can be responsible for the symptoms. A general practitioner explains how you can tell what type of pathogen it is.
Dr. Tina Ardon is a general practitioner at the renowned Mayo Clinic. She reports how a bacterial infection can be differentiated from a viral one when a sore throat appears.
Sore throats can have different causes
The throat hurts, burns and itches and swallowing becomes a burden. Everyone knows the annoying sore throat that announces or accompanies an illness. Many then speak of a cold. What is meant by this is a flu-like infection that the body can usually fight itself well. In fact, there can be various triggers behind the sore throat, which are sometimes treated differently.
Bacteria or virus?
The accompanying symptoms that occur with the sore throat, according to Dr. Ardon a clue as to whether the pathogens are viruses or bacteria. This is crucial for the treatment, because there are usually viruses behind the flu and cold. Bacterial infections are manifested by other side effects.
Sore throat due to viral pathogens
Like Dr. Ardon reports that after a virus infection there are typical symptoms that we associate with a cold, such as a runny nose, sneezing or coughing. With such symptoms "it is very unlikely that we are dealing with bacteria," said the general practitioner.
Sore throat from bacteria
According to Ardon, if there is a bacterial infection behind the sore throat, it is mostly streptococci that affect the back of the neck. Such an infection is mostly not accompanied by a cough or runny nose. Fever and headache are more likely. In addition, red spots in the back of the mouth and swelling of the tonsils often occur in the course of a streptococcal infection in the throat.
However, only a laboratory test brings certainty, but this is only carried out in severe cases. As the family doctor emphasizes, there is no effective treatment for flu viruses. A lot of rest and lots of warm liquids can help, however. If it is streptococcal, antibiotics can help if the infection gets severe, Dr. Ardon. In most cases, however, it is viruses that are behind the sore throat. (vb)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek