An important and perhaps a paradigm shifting article is found in the Dec 1,2009 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine by Dr.Robert Centor. See here for the abstract.For the full article subscription required or wait 6 months.
For the past many decades medical students have been taught to be wary of the possibility of the later development of rheumatic fever in a sore throat patient and that possibility is one reason for treatment of beta strep sore throats,suppurative complication being the other.
The various treatment algorithms are based on the concern about beta strep infection but Centor warns us that a different bacteria may pose a greater risk in one age group, one that seemingly is not considered in the usual treatment guidelines.
Dr Centor puts forth a good argument that in the age group 15-24 years an equally important concern (perhaps a greater concern) is that the pharyngitis is due to Fusobacterium necrophurum and if so there is a real risk of the subsequent development of something called Lemierre syndrome . This is a potentially life threatening condition in which there is bacteremia and a suppurative thrombophebitits of the internal jugular vein. While rheumatic fever and patients with rheumatic heart disease were common when I trained in the late sixties and early seventies, can anyone remember the last case of rheumatic fever that they saw?
A clinical pearl is that typically worsening clinical symptoms with neck swelling in a 15-24 year old may signal the condition. Treatment for a beta-strep negative patient in whom you suspect F. necrophorum is with penicillin or a cephalosporin and not the ever popular macrolides. With bacteremia the recommended treatment is penicillin plus metronidazole or clindamycin alone.
Robert Centor has studied and written extensively on the topic of pharyngitis for a number of years he should be listened to and hopefully his article in this widely read journal will have some impact. Any bacteria with "necro" in its name should be taken seriously. Go here to his blog to read some of his comments on this issue.