Potentially Deadly Sore Throats
As winter comes to an end and spring finally approaches, sore throats are still a common ailment. They may be a symptom of a cold or the flu, or result from post-nasal drip produced by allergies. And of course plenty of sore throats are brought on by the streptococcus bacterium, which mainly strikes children but can be contracted by adults as well. But it may surprise you to learn that new research has determined there is a form of bacteria more prevalent than Strep causing sore throats in young adults, and it is dangerous.
The study, which took place at the University of Alabama School of Medicine at Birmingham, found that Fusobacterium necrophorum is the cause of more than 20 percent of sore throats in teens and young adults, and it can have deadly complications.1 The subjects were 312 students between the ages of 15 and 30 who visited the University of Alabama at Birmingham Student Health Clinic complaining of a sore throat. They were compared with a control group of 80 students in the same age group who did not report sore throat symptoms.
After performing a throat culture on each of the patients, the scientists analyzed the samples for the presence of bacteria. The F. necrophorum bacterium showed up in 20.5 percent of the participants who had sore throats and was much more commonly found than streptococcus. Group A strep was only present in approximately 10 percent of the sore throat patients.
Infection with F. necrophorum is problematic on several fronts. First of all, it's not something physicians typically look for when a patient presents with a sore throat. They will conduct a rapid strep test and if the results are negative, the assumption is generally that the cause is viral. When a virus is responsible for the sore throat, no antibiotics should be prescribed since they do nothing to fight off the infection. Viral infections should resolve on their own after a few days. However, F. necrophorum does respond to antibiotics since it is bacterial. Therefore, if you have a sore throat that isn't strep and doesn't go away in four or five days, it may be best to return to the doctor and request further testing.
Many bacterial infections will eventually resolve without the help of antibiotics; it simply takes longer, and you remain contagious during that time. We certainly don't want to promote the unnecessary use of antibiotics which have helped create almost unstoppable, drug-resistant superbugs, but F. necrophorum is a different animal and is potentially dangerous to leave untreated because it is associated with serious complications. It can lead to the development of Lemierre's syndrome, a rare and sometimes deadly disease. Lemierre's syndrome can produce an abscess in the airway that spreads the infection first to the nearby jugular vein and then can travel through the bloodstream to the brain, lungs, liver, or bones. It is fatal in approximately five percent of cases.
Young adults were the focus of this research because that appears to be the population that is mainly affected by F. necrophorum. There is no known reason why it appears to strike mainly in this age group. Researchers also are unaware whether this bacterium is transmitted from one person to another or if it is lying dormant in everyone and only activates during adolescence or a few years later.
At any rate, this study serves as a good reminder to pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you are experiencing a sore throat, try gargling with warm salt water, suck on eucalyptus lozenges, and drink some tea with honey. Or better yet, sip on some juice laced with a garlic-based, anti-pathogenic formula throughout the day, allowing it to repeatedly coat the throat. It will knock out most sore throats in less than 48 hours. But if the symptoms don't go away after a couple of days, particularly if your scratchy throat is accompanied by a fever or painful swallowing, let your doctor check it out. Of course, the doctor may not have any better remedies to suggest if your rapid strep test comes back negative, and you certainly don't want unnecessary antibiotics. However, you know your body best, and if you fall into the young adult category, you might want to discuss the possibility of F. necrophorum as the cause and get a throat culture that can be processed in a lab to look for this bacteria.
- 1. Reinberg, Steven. "1 in 5 Sore Throats Tied to Scary Bacteria: Study." WebMD. 16 February 2015. Accessed 25 February 2015. http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/news/20150216/1-in-5-sore-throats-tied-to-scary-bacteria-study-finds