We encourage you to practice good hygiene and physical distancing to help slow the spread
of germs. If you are experiencing symptoms of fever, coughing, sore throat or shortness of
breath, you should seek medical advice from a doctor (including pathology testing) and stay
at home. Where any conflict may arise between the Department of Health’s advice and any
information on this website, please follow advice from the Department of Health’s health
What causes a sore throat?
Sore throats are usually caused by an infection, which can be of viral or bacterial origin. Viral throat infections are the most common cause of sore throats, accounting for 50% to 95% of cases in adults and 70% of cases in children.1 Bacterial throat infections are less common. The most common type of bacteria that causes throat infections are called group A Streptococci, which are responsible for up to 30% of cases in children and around 10% in adults.2-4
How does a throat infection happen?
When we breathe in, the throat is exposed to thousands of infectious viruses and bacteria circulating in the air. They can also spread from person to person through hand contact. These viruses and bacteria can penetrate the protective lining of the throat resulting in a throat infection. The damage caused by viruses and bacteria tends to irritate the throat and make it sore.
Viral vs. bacterial sore throat: know the difference
We know that sore throats are caused by both viruses and bacteria but how can we tell the difference? Both viral and bacterial throat infections share many common symptoms, so it can be difficult to determine the cause.
Viral throat infection symptoms
Some of the symptoms associated with a viral throat infection include a runny nose, nasal congestion, cough and eye irritation or redness. Some individuals may also develop a fever.
Bacterial throat infection symptoms
Some of the symptoms associated with the most common type of bacterial throat infection include fever and headache.
Unfortunately, you cannot diagnose whether your throat infection is caused by bacteria or viruses by yourself. To find out what is causing your sore throat, speak to your doctor who can help determine the best course of treatment.
How to treat throat infection
Whether your throat infection is caused by a virus or bacteria will determine how it should be treated.
Treating a viral throat infection
Viral infections are mainly fought by the body’s own immune system. This means that only the symptoms can be treated. A viral throat infection will usually get better by itself within 7 days.5 Rest and home remedies, such as drinking a warm tea to soothe the throat or sucking on cold foods like an ice block to numb the throat, can be helpful.
Throat lozenges and sprays are also helpful for relieving a viral throat infection. Strepsils® has a wide range of products to help relieve the symptoms of a sore throat.
If your throat is extremely painful and inflamed, look for something with an anaesthetic ingredient to numb the throat and an anti-inflammatory ingredient to help reduce throat inflammation. Strepfen® Lozenges contain an anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving active ingredient to help relieve painful swelling and tenderness of an inflamed sore throat. It is also available in a throat spray.
Antibiotics offer no benefit for infections caused by viruses and do not relieve throat pain.
Treating a bacterial throat infection
A mild bacterial throat infection can be relieved in the same way as a viral throat infection, as the body’s own immune system can usually fight the bacteria by itself. You could try Strepsils® Extra Lozenges which have both antibacterial* and anaesthetic action to help relieve painful sore throats.
Antibiotics are not needed for treating most sore throats, and rest and home remedies are recommended in most cases. If a bacterial throat infection is confirmed, your doctor will decide if an antibiotic is necessary.
Is throat infection contagious?
Bacteria and viruses can spread from one person to another through hand-to-hand or hand-to-object contact. To help stop the spread of throat infections, handwashing is one of the most important things you can do.
How to prevent a sore throat
Regardless of whether bacteria or viruses are the culprits behind a sore throat, the best way to prevent a throat infection is to practice good hygiene.4
Keep your hands clean
Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for 30 seconds,4 making sure you clean all parts of your hands and fingers thoroughly. If you can’t access a sink, try disinfecting your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
Always use a disposable tissue or your inner elbow to cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Remember to wash or disinfect your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
Stay at home
If you feel unwell, stay at home to prevent spreading any germs. Also try to limit your contact with other people who are sick and avoid touching the nose, mouth, or eyes.
Addey D & Shephard A 2012.
Chan TV 2010.
Chow AW & Doron S. UpToDate 2021.
Wald ER. UpToDate 2019.
Therapeutic Guidelines. Sore throat. June 2019.
Strepsils: Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.
Strepfen: Always read the label and follow the directions for use. Incorrect use could be harmful.