Over-prescription of antibiotics for sore throat is concerning

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Only 1 in 10 individuals with sore throat seek medical help and more than half of those receive antibiotics according to a study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

Researchers conducted a prospective population-based cohort study with 4461 individuals. Sore throat symptom profiles and general practitioner (GP) consultation behaviour were assessed during 2 winter seasons through a national household survey.

13% of patients with sore throat sought GP consultation, and 56% of those were prescribed antibiotics. Women and children were more likely to have sore throat (adjusted incidence rate ratio, 1.33 and 1.52, respectively). The likelihood of GP consultation was higher for preschool children (adjusted OR [aOR], 3.22), longer duration of sore throat (aOR, 1.11), more severe pain (aOR, 4.24), or fever (aOR, 3.82). Chronic illness (aOR, 1.78), severe pain (aOR, 4.14), fever (aOR, 2.58), and earache in children (aOR, 1.85) were associated with more frequent antibiotic use.

It is important that patients understand and self-manage sore throat, thereby reducing unnecessary GP consultations and antibiotic prescribing, the authors said. The help-seeking behaviour of patients could be curtailed by highlighting the fact that antibiotics are not superior to simple over-the-counter medications, with the possibility of side-effects and resistance.

"Tackling the problem of over-prescribing of antibiotics in primary care requires development of joined-up strategies targeting the general public, those who present with sore throat and their doctors", the authors added.