Strep throat is a highly contagious bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus. A 2022 study published in The Lancet investigated the worldwide yearly burden of strep throat, estimating 288.6 million episodes in children aged 5–14.¹
While strep throat primarily affects children, it can also affect adults, which can get in the way of your daily life, impacting your job and other responsibilities. Since strep throat is contagious, you're also likely to pass it on to people around you.
Recurring strep throat is frustrating, and you probably want to know why it keeps coming back. Let’s look at why you keep getting strep throat.
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The medical community defines recurring strep throat as an infection with Group A streptococcal bacteria more than once during the respiratory season. In the U.S., the respiratory season occurs during the fall and winter months.
During these two seasons, people are much more likely to pass infectious illnesses to others. You may also hear people calling this period “flu season.”
If you or your loved one has strep throat just once during the respiratory season, even if it's several years in a row, your physician will not necessarily diagnose you with recurrent strep throat. True recurring strep throat would be if you experienced multiple infections during a single respiratory season.
Researchers have discovered several causes in cases of repeated strep throat:
Some people have repeated bouts of infectious illnesses like strep because they’re immunocompromised. Things that can affect your immune system include:
Being under a great deal of stress
Regularly taking a corticosteroid because of another medical condition
An illness such as HIV or AIDS
Taking immunosuppressive drugs after an organ transplant
Cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy
Aging: Your immune system becomes less effective with age
All of these issues can adversely affect your body's ability to fight infection.
Some people develop a resistance to the antibiotics normally given for strep. This means the antibiotic will be less effective in completely eradicating the infection.
Sometimes a person with strep may stop taking antibiotics once they start feeling better rather than finishing the entire course. Sometimes, doctors may not prescribe a strong enough dose to eradicate the bacteria. Either way, you may experience a relapse if you don’t take a full course of antibiotic treatment.
You may discover that you’re allergic to the prescribed antibiotic and discontinue the medication. Your strep infection will likely return without additional treatment with another antibiotic.
Some people carry strep bacteria. They don't know they have it because they don’t have any symptoms. If you regularly get strep throat, consider who you’re in frequent contact with. Someone may be a strep carrier, and repeated exposure to the bacteria is making you ill.
Genetics may play a role in susceptibility to recurring strep throat. In a 2019 study, researchers noted that many children who had their tonsils removed due to recurrent tonsillitis had a family history of recurrent tonsillitis.²
If you have a weakened immune system, you're more likely to pick up various infections, including strep.
If a compromised immune system isn't an issue, the other most likely reason why you or a loved one seems more prone to strep is due to age and lifestyle factors.
Children aged 5–15 are much more likely to have recurring strep throat. A 2015 study noted that 15–25% of all sore throat cases during winter were due to strep A, and elementary school children may develop 1–3 new infections each school year.³ ⁴
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that parents or people who are regularly around children are more likely to get strep throat, too.
People of any age are at risk when they’re around people who may have strep throat in group settings. Schools, daycares, college dorms, and barracks are hotspots for strep exposure.
If you have the wrong antibiotics or the dosage is too low, your strep throat will likely return. If any of these situations occur, contact your doctor for advice.
If your immune system is compromised, it's important to take good care of yourself by regularly eating nutritious, healthy meals with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. It's also vital to get enough sleep and find ways to reduce the stress in your life. Talk therapy is a great way to learn to manage stress and talk through your stressors.
Gentle exercises such as walking, yoga, swimming, or Tai Chi boost your endorphins, providing natural stress relief.
When taking medication for strep throat, be sure to finish all the medication, even if you start to feel better. However, if you have an allergic reaction to the antibiotic, stop taking it and contact your physician right away for a different treatment. If you think you don’t have the correct dosage, it's okay to seek further medical advice.
Lastly, encourage everyone in your family to practice good hygiene by regularly washing their hands, covering their mouth when they cough and avoiding sharing utensils, cups, and dishes.
It can be frustrating when repeated strep throat infections pester you and your family. The best thing you can do is to reach out to your physician. Tell them about your concerns and let them know how this frequent illness is affecting you. If you still need help after following their advice, feel free to reach out for a second opinion.
Strep throat: All you need to know | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention