The Infectious Disease Society of America has issued new guidelines for doctors who treat upper respiratory infections, specifically sore throats. The organization published a report saying most sore throats should not be treated with antibiotics because viruses cause most infections, not bacteria.
Antibiotics that kill strep throat won't kill viruses. That's one reason Dr. Tim Hendrix at CentraCare in Orlando does a quick swab test on patients before handing out any medication.
"It's a test that can tell us in five or ten minutes whether you have strep or not," Hendrix said.
Research shows that doctors prescribe antibiotics for as many as 70 percent of patients when only a small percentage actually need them. Dr. Hendrix said that statistic has a lot to do with patient expectation. He said it's not uncommon for a patient to come to an appointment with a sore throat and expect to walk out with an antibiotic.
"It happens every day. Several times a day," Hendrix said. "It takes time to educate them that they just have a virus and it will run its course."
Sore throats from a virus are typically characterized by:
- runny nose
- mouth sores
Strep throat more often causes:
- swollen glands
- enlarged tonsils
- possible rash
The new guidelines were prompted by evidence that the overuse of antibiotics actually makes infections harder to fight.
"In a community that's constantly exposed to these antibiotics, the bacteria is becoming more and more resistant. We're seeing superbugs," Hendrix explained.
MRSA, for example, is a superbug strain of staphylococcus that is resistant to multiple drugs.
"It's an ongoing arms race with the bacteria," Hendrix said.
The new guidelines also recommend against removing children's tonsils even if they suffer from recurring throat infections. Experts say in most cases, the risks of surgery are usually not worth it.