Medical prescribers should be discouraged from issuing antibiotics to treat patients with a sore throat, new guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have said.
One of the main reasons people in the UK visit their GP is because of respiratory tract infections. Out of all of these appointments, more than 1 in 4 (27%) is for a sore throat.
Research by the BMJ, and reviewed be NICE, suggests antibiotics are being prescribed in 60% of cases.
As a result, NICE and Public Health England (PHE) have advised health prescribers to use paracetamol, rather than antibiotics, to relieve the symptoms of a sore throat.
‘A sore throat can be very painful, making you feel tired and unwell for about a week. But in most cases antibiotics will not make much difference,’ said Dr Tessa Lewis, chair of the managing common infections guidance committee.
‘Paracetamol can help to relieve pain and control temperature. Medicated lozenges might not reduce the pain by much, but some people may choose to use them.’
Recently, there has been an emphasis on reducing the level of antibiotic prescriptions in order to combat the rise of resistant bugs. Warnings have been issued by England’s chief medical office, Dame Prof Sally Davies, about the risks involved in antibiotic resistance, including the complication of routine medical procedures due to fear of infection.
Professor Cliodna McNulty, Head of Primary Care Unit at Public Health England, said: ‘Antibiotics are a precious resource and it’s important that they are only used when they are really needed.’
In November, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said antibiotic resistance ‘is one of the biggest threats to global health’ today and can lead to ‘longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality.’
Prof McNulty argued ‘antibiotics make little difference to length or severity’ when treating a sore throat and ‘there are other ways to control the symptoms including taking paracetamol and medicated lozenges’.
Prof Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at NICE, said antibiotics should be avoided in most cases, but that ‘people who need them should be given them’.
‘But it is clear that routine prescribing in all cases isn’t appropriate,’ she added.
‘We are living in a world where bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. It is vital these medicines are protected, and only used when they are effective.’