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NICE publishes final ruling on antibiotic use for sore throats

Monday 5th February 2018
NICE has ruled that antibiotics should no longer be prescribed to treat sore throats in the UK. Image: Dejan_Dundjerski via iStock
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Antibiotics should never be prescribed for sore throats, but paracetamol should be recommended as an effective treatment instead.

This is the final ruling from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on the matter, after it has conducted extensive research into whether prescribing antibiotics can be beneficial for patients complaining of a sore throat at all.

NICE found that respiratory tract infections are one of the main reasons for people to visit their GP or ask for advice from a pharmacist, with more than one-quarter (27 per cent) of these appointments relating to sore throats. Antibiotics were prescribed to 60 per cent of these patients, despite the fact that throat lozenges or paracetamol tablets would have a similar effect.

What's more, over-the-counter medication would not add to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, which the health service and UK government have been stepping up their efforts to tackle in the last few years.

GPs and pharmacists need to stop prescribing antibiotics for minor ailments such as sore throats, otherwise there is a risk that bacteria will become resistant to them and illnesses that should be relatively simple to treat could end up proving much more serious, and potentially even fatal.

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at NICE, commented: "The evidence shows antibiotics are not an effective treatment for the majority of sore throats. People who need them should be given them and our advice will support those decisions. But it is clear that routine prescribing in all cases isn't appropriate.

"We are living in a world where bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. It is vital these medicines are protected and only used when they are effective."

With this in mind, the official advice from NICE now states that the pain from sore throats should be treated with paracetamol or ibuprofen instead, or medicated lozenges that contain local anaesthetic. However, the healthcare body warned that the latter would only provide temporary relief.

Written by James Puckle

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