Paediatrics: how to manage pharyngitis in an era of increasing antimicrobial resistance

Joan L Robinson


The goal of this narrative review of pharyngitis is to summarize the practical aspects of the management of sore throat in children in high- and middle-income countries. A traditional review of the literature was performed. Most cases of pharyngitis are viral and self-limited, although rarely viral pharyngitis due to Epstein–Barr leads to airway obstruction. Bacterial pharyngitis is usually due to group A streptococcus (GAS), occurs primarily in children aged 5–15 years, and presents as sore throat in the absence of rhinitis, laryngitis or cough. Again, most cases are self-limited; antibiotics hasten recovery by only 1–2 days. Guidelines vary by country, but antibiotics are commonly recommended for proven GAS pharyngitis as they may prevent rare but severe complications, in particular rheumatic fever (RF). In this era of antimicrobial stewardship, it should be extremely rare that antibiotics are prescribed for presumed GAS pharyngitis until GAS has been detected. Even with proven GAS pharyngitis, it is controversial whether children at low risk for RF should routinely be prescribed antibiotics as the number needed to treat to prevent one case of RF is undoubtedly very large. When treatment is offered, the antibiotics of choice are penicillin or amoxicillin as they are narrow spectrum and resistance resulting in clinical failure is yet to be documented. A 10-day oral course is recommended as shorter courses appear to be less likely to clear carriage of GAS. However, the evidence that one needs to clear carriage to prevent RF is low quality and indirect.

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Accepted: ; Published: .


Robinson JL. Paediatrics: how to manage pharyngitis in an era of increasing antimicrobial resistance. Drugs in Context 2021; 10: 2020-11-6. DOI: 10.7573/dic.2020-11-6

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