Shortening the Discomfort of Sore Throats

There has been a strong movement in the United States to limit resistance to antibiotics by insuring that we prescribe them appropriately for bacterial infections only and make sure we educate our patients to complete the course of the antibiotics to prevent the bacteria from surviving and developing resistance patterns. We have been taught that a “strep throat” is rarely seen in adults unless they are caring for children age 2-7 that are sick with a sore throat.

The patient should have a fever, swollen glands in the neck and an exudate on the tonsils or oropharynx. This constellation of findings and symptoms represents “Centors’ Triad” which conveys a high probability that a quick streptococcal assay or culture will be positive. For all other sore throats we are taught to treat it with lozenges, warm fluids and time. There is a definite and distinct effort to train doctors to not prescribe an antibiotic or a “Z Pack” for these non-beta hemolytic streptococcal sore throats.

It is with this background or preamble that I report on an article out of the October 17, 2018 International Journal of Clinical Practice that discusses the use of an experimental throat lozenge versus a placebo throat lozenge. The experimental troche contained a small dose of an antibiotic, tyrothricin plus benzalkonium chloride and benzocaine (an anesthetic). Tyrothricin is an antibiotic used overseas to treat gram positive organisms. It is incorporated into lozenges designed for children with non-streptococcal sore throats. This antibiotic has not demonstrated any issues with bacteria developing resistance yet.

In a clinical trial, patients 18 years of age and older with a painful sore throat which was not due to “strep” were randomly assigned to the study drug or placebo. The results were striking with more relief of pain at two hours in the study group than placebo, less difficulty swallowing and more resolution of symptoms at three days with the study drug than a placebo.

The medication used in the study is not currently available in the USA. If it is as successful as this study implies then when will it be introduced in the USA for symptomatic relief of those uncomfortable non-strep sore throats?

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Infectious Disease Society of America Updates Guidelines for Strep Throat

The Infectious Disease Society of America updated its 2002 guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of Group A streptococcal sore throat.  In adults with a sore throat, only 5 – 15% actually have Group A streptococcal sore throat and require an antibiotic to treat the illness. Adults in that group usually have been in the proximity of young children or adolescents who have strep throat.  In 85 – 95% of the cases, the adults have a viral illness that is causing their sore throat and viruses do not respond to the use of antibiotics.    For patients at risk for Group A streptococcal sore throat, usually presenting with fever, swollen neck lymph glands and an exudative pharyngitis; it is recommended that a rapid antigen detection test be performed to confirm the diagnosis and appropriately start the patient on antibiotics.

According to Stanford Shulman, MD of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, once the rapid antigen detection test is positive no confirmatory formal throat culture is necessary.  If the test is negative in a child or adolescent only, they recommend performing a formal throat culture to rule out the bacterial infection. This is not necessary for adults because there is a low risk of them having this type of infection and very low risk of complications like rheumatic fever.

Once strep throat is diagnosed, the treatment of choice remains penicillin or amoxicillin taken for 10 full days. If the patient is penicillin allergic, alternative choices of antibiotics including cephalosporins, clindamycin or clarithromycin are warranted.  Acetaminophen and non steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are acceptable to reduce discomfort and symptoms.

Distinguishing between a viral sore throat and bacterial Group A streptococcal sore throat is very difficult using symptoms alone since the bacteria have changed their presentation as an adaptive survival mechanism. Most clinicians however feel confident that if the patient has a runny nose (rhinorrhea), hoarseness, mouth ulcers and cough it is probably viral and does not require antibiotics.

This guideline change comes on the heels of a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine pointing out that antibiotic use by senior citizens in the southern United States is more frequent in January through March than in other parts of the country. The study talks about the inappropriate use of oral antibiotics during the cold and flu season leading to bacteria becoming resistant to simple and inexpensive antibiotics.  In addition to a resistance to antibiotics, we are observing an increased number of complications of antibiotic use such as antibiotic related colitis (clostridium difficile).

This information is presented as an educational effort especially for patients who demand an antibiotic inappropriately when they catch a cold (viral illness) or who demand an antibiotic when they travel “just in case I catch a cold”.