FACTS: Streptococcus bacteria cause about 15 percent of sore throats; viruses cause most of the rest! It can be difficult to tell if your sore throat is being caused by strep or by a virus, but it is important to try. Viral sore throats can only be soothed with such remedies as lozenges, gurgling salt or vinegar, or drinking honey or peppermint tea. However, strep throats can be cured easily by taking antibiotics such as penicillin. (Also, if strep throat is left untreated, it can develop into a more serious disease such as rheumatic fever, which can cause heart problems).
So how can you tell the difference? Viral sore throats are often accompanied by symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, watery eyes, hoarseness, and diarrhea. Strep throat symptoms include sudden fever, stomach aches, and swollen glands. (Strep is also much more common during the winter.)
Even so, the only way to be certain is to get a throat culture. If you have a sore throat that lasts for several days (or a fever), you probably should consult a physician.