Medicine: Antibiotics make little difference to a sore throat

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Prescribing antibiotics for sore throats makes little difference to how quickly they disappear, according to a paper in the British Medical Journal, published today. A total of 716 "sore throat" patients were divided into three groups: the first was given a 10-day prescription for antibiotics; the second was given nothing; and the third group was given a prescription if the symptoms did not start to settle after three days.

The proportion of patients better by day three did not differ significantly between the three groups, nor did the length of their illness, days off work or school, or the (high) proportion of patients satisfied. More than two-thirds of patients in group three did not use their prescription.

The authors of the study, at Southampton University's Faculty of Medicine, conclude that unless patients with sore throats are very ill, doctors should avoid prescribing antibiotics - or offer antibiotics only if symptoms persist.