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COVID-19 vs. strep throat symptoms

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on


  • Strep throat and COVID-19 can both cause a sore throat. 
  • Strep and COVID-19 have different origins, which also causes them to require different treatment strategies.
  • It’s possible to have strep and COVID-19 at the same time.

Strep throat and COVID-19 can both be the cause of a sore throat. As they have different causes, they should be treated differently as well. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the differences between COVID-19 and strep, how to get an accurate diagnosis, and the possible treatment options for both conditions. 

Causes of a sore throat: strep vs. COVID-19 

A sore throat is a common symptom that’s usually not something to worry about. There are various possible causes for a sore throat, such as: 2

  • Viral infections that target the upper respiratory tract, such as the common cold, flu or COVID-19
  • Bacteria, such as Streptococcus A (also called Streptococcus pyogenes) 
  • Allergies
  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke 
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Glandular fever
  • Tonsillitis

What are some differences between COVID-19 and strep throat?

A sore throat caused by a virus such as the coronavirus has quite some differences compared to a sore throat caused by a bacteria such as Streptococcus A. COVID-19 can occur in all age groups. In contrast, strep throat is more common between the ages of 5 and 15, although sporadically, adults may also experience the condition. Besides the cause and the group of people more likely to be infected, the symptoms and treatments are also different in COVID-19 vs. strep. 

If you have strep throat, then you may experience any of the following symptoms: 3

  • Sudden sore throat 
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Redness and swelling of the throat and tonsils 
  • Tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • White patches on the tonsils
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck 

When your sore throat is caused by a virus instead, the symptoms may look a bit different. Typically, you can experience: 

  • A sore throat
  • A runny nose
  • Hoarseness 
  • Cough
  • Pink eye 

If your sore throat is caused by COVID, then it may be accompanied by other common symptoms of COVID-19, such as: 5 6

In some cases, COVID-19 and strep can occur together, impacting the treatment of your condition.7

How can you know whether you have strep or COVID-19?

Your healthcare provider can help determine whether your sore throat is caused by COVID-19 or strep. This can be done by several diagnostic tests. Your healthcare provider can look for COVID-19 using: 8

  • A PCR test, which is done by taking a swab from the back of the nose or throat. This test’s results are generally more accurate than the rapid test. 
  • A rapid test provides results immediately and is also done by taking a swab from the back of the nose. This type of test can also be used at home. A repeat test is recommended for this type of test to reduce your risk of a false negative result. 

To diagnose strep throat, your healthcare provider can, in addition to asking about your symptoms and performing a physical examination, use: 9

  • A rapid strep test, involving a swab from the throat which shows your results immediately. If this test is positive, your doctor can prescribe the correct antibiotics. A negative test result may be followed by a throat culture if your doctor still suspects a strep throat is causing your sore throat. 
  • A throat culture is also done by taking a swab from the throat. The collected sample will then be sent to a lab where it will be checked for bacteria. A throat culture can find infections which rapid strep tests may miss. 

Treatment of strep throat vs. COVID-19

The treatment of COVID-19 and strep throat is different as well. Most cases of COVID-19 get better without additional treatment. However, you can alleviate your symptoms with home remedies. Some treatment methods work well, such as: 10

  1. Taking plenty of rest 
  2. Drinking enough water, which is especially important if you’re experiencing diarrhea or vomiting
  3. Taking over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, and naproxen

There are certain antiviral drugs that your doctor may prescribe. These antiviral drugs are different for the flu and COVID-19 and are usually provided if you are at risk for severe illness due to the infection

If you are eligible for antiviral treatment for COVID-19, you can get a prescription from your doctor for antiviral medication that supports your immune system in fighting the virus. It’s important to note that this medication should be started as soon as possible to be effective. 

As strep throat is caused by bacteria, your doctor can prescribe you with antibiotics to treat the infection. This is necessary to: 

  • Decrease the amount of time that you are sick
  • Decrease your symptoms 
  • Prevent the bacteria from spreading to others
  • Prevent serious complications such as rheumatic fever

It’s essential to use your antibiotics properly. This means that you should take your prescription exactly as your doctor recommended and that you should keep taking your medicine until your doctor tells you to stop, even if you’re feeling better. 

Wrapping up

Strep throat and COVID-19 can both be the cause of a sore throat. As a virus and a bacteria require a different treatment strategy, it’s important to know the actual cause of your sore throat. Your healthcare provider can help you determine whether the cause of your sore throat is bacterial or viral by checking your symptoms and performing diagnostic tests.


Q: Can you have strep and COVID at the same time?
A: It’s possible to be simultaneously infected with the coronavirus and the Streptococcus bacteria. It’s important to mention all your symptoms to your healthcare provider, so that they can provide you with an accurate diagnosis. 

Q: Can COVID cause strep throat? 
A: Strep throat is caused by a bacteria and COVID-19 is caused by a virus. This means that COVID-19 or the coronavirus cannot cause strep throat. 

Q: What are some differences between COVID-19 and strep throat? 
A: COVID-19 and strep throat have a different origin and should therefore be treated differently. Both conditions can also cause different complications, such as respiratory complications with COVID, and rheumatic fever with strep throat. 

Q: Can COVID turn into strep? 
A: Strep throat is caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes. COVID-19, on the other hand, is caused by a virus called the coronavirus, which cannot cause strep throat.