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OBJECTIVE: To determine the effect of clinical scores that predict streptococcal infection or rapid streptococcal antigen detection tests compared with delayed antibiotic prescribing. DESIGN: Open adaptive pragmatic parallel group randomised controlled trial. SETTING: Primary care in United Kingdom. PATIENTS: Patients aged ≥ 3 with acute sore throat. INTERVENTION: An internet programme randomised patients to targeted antibiotic use according to: delayed antibiotics (the comparator group for analyses), clinical score, or antigen test used according to clinical score. During the trial a preliminary streptococcal score (score 1, n=1129) was replaced by a more consistent score (score 2, n=631; features: fever during previous 24 hours; purulence; attends rapidly (within three days after onset of symptoms); inflamed tonsils; no cough/coryza (acronym FeverPAIN). OUTCOMES: Symptom severity reported by patients on a 7 point Likert scale (mean severity of sore throat/difficulty swallowing for days two to four after the consultation (primary outcome)), duration of symptoms, use of antibiotics. RESULTS: For score 1 there were no significant differences between groups. For score 2, symptom severity was documented in 80% (168/207 (81%) in delayed antibiotics group; 168/211 (80%) in clinical score group; 166/213 (78%) in antigen test group). Reported severity of symptoms was lower in the clinical score group (-0.33, 95% confidence interval -0.64 to -0.02; P=0.04), equivalent to one in three rating sore throat a slight versus moderate problem, with a similar reduction for the antigen test group (-0.30, -0.61 to -0.00; P=0.05). Symptoms rated moderately bad or worse resolved significantly faster in the clinical score group (hazard ratio 1.30, 95% confidence interval 1.03 to 1.63) but not the antigen test group (1.11, 0.88 to 1.40). In the delayed antibiotics group, 75/164 (46%) used antibiotics. Use of antibiotics in the clinical score group (60/161) was 29% lower (adjusted risk ratio 0.71, 95% confidence interval 0.50 to 0.95; P=0.02) and in the antigen test group (58/164) was 27% lower (0.73, 0.52 to 0.98; P=0.03). There were no significant differences in complications or reconsultations. CONCLUSION: Targeted use of antibiotics for acute sore throat with a clinical score improves reported symptoms and reduces antibiotic use. Antigen tests used according to a clinical score provide similar benefits but with no clear advantages over a clinical score alone. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN32027234.

Type

Journal article

Journal

BMJ

Publication Date

10/10/2013

Volume

347

Keywords

Anti-Bacterial Agents, Antigens, Bacterial, Drug Administration Schedule, Female, Humans, Immunologic Tests, Male, Pharyngitis, Sensitivity and Specificity, Streptococcal Infections, Streptococcus pyogenes, Surveys and Questionnaires, United Kingdom