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Sunday, 8 September, 2002, 23:31 GMT 00:31 UK
Warning over killer throat disease
A sore throat is the primary symptom of the disease
Patients who are not given antibiotics when they have a sore throat have been urged to keep a close eye on their condition.

It follows a significant rise in the number of cases of Lemierre's disease this year.

The disease, which is most common in young adults, can cause serious illness and even death if left untreated.


With this disease patients can go downhill quite quickly

Dr Jon Brazier, PHLS
Scientists believe pressure on GPs not to prescribe antibiotics because of increasing drug resistance may be to blame for the rise.

The disease is cause by a bacterium called Fusobacterium necrophorum that normally lives harmlessly in people's mouths.

Rare disease

However, for reasons unknown to scientists, it can start to attack the body of previously healthy people.

It mostly affects young people between the ages of 16 and 23 and is more common in men.

The disease is rare and affects just a handful of people each year. However, there have been 30 cases so far this year - as much as the total for all of last year.

The data will be presented at the Public Health Laboratory Service annual scientific conference in Coventry on Monday.

Disease symptoms

Dr Jon Brazier of the PHLS said the increase was probably because GPs were prescribing fewer antibiotics for sore throats.

"Quite rightly, GPs are trying to restrict the use of antibiotics for viral diseases," he told BBC News Online.

"However, there are a few chances that because of this they may be missing a few cases that are more severe and require treatment."

Since the condition is rare, few GPs will have come across it.

Dr Brazier urged patients who have not received antibiotics for a sore throat to always go back to their GP if their condition deteriorates.

"I think we would like to stress to patients that if their doctor decides not to give them an antibiotic and if they feel worse in a few days than they should go back to their doctor.

"Most viral sore throats get better of their own accord in a few days but with this disease patients can go downhill quite quickly."

Lemierre's disease starts off as a very sore throat and leads to a fever, swollen glands and a general feeling of being unwell.

Patients with the condition often need to be admitted to hospital.

Scientists do not know why the bacterium triggers the disease.

See also:

25 Jun 02 | Scotland
19 May 02 | Health
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