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Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 18:45 GMT 19:45 UK
Fatal infection 'making a comeback'
Gp examination
GPs examine thousands of throat infections every year
Pressure on GPs to cut back on prescriptions means a potentially fatal disease, believed eradicated decades ago, may be returning.

Lemierre's disease was common in the early part of the 20th century. It virtually disappeared with the advent of antibiotics.

It appears as a sore throat but can develop within weeks and can affect the lungs, liver and joints. If untreated, it can be fatal.

There is usually just one reported case of the disease each year in England. But two cases of the condition in two neighbouring areas during a short period last year has given public health doctors cause for concern.

National figures for the disease are also on the increase.


In cases of Lemierre's disease it essential that the patient gets antibiotics to stop it spreading around the body

Terry Riordan, Public Health Laboratory Service

According to New Scientist magazine, public health doctors believe that pressure on GPs not to prescribe medicines for sore throats has led to the increase in cases.

They fear that this trend could lead the disease to become more widespread.

Terry Riordan, a researcher from the Public Health Laboratory Service, said: "The numbers have gone up in the last couple of years. It is tempting to speculate that the two are linked."

Almost all sore throats are caused by viruses and using antibiotics to tackle them is pointless.

However, PHLS doctors have urged GPs to consider prescribing antibiotics for severe sore throats.

They have suggested that antibiotics should be given to patients with sore throats that do not get better within a few days.

They say this practice would prevent Lemierre's disease from making a comeback.

Mr Riordan added: "The numbers have gone up in the last couple of years. It is still an uncommon disease but it is becoming more common.

"We don't want to sensationalise this, but it may be worth reminding GPs that there could be some patients who have a severe sore throat that could lead to something more serious.

"In cases of Lemierre's disease it essential that the patient gets antibiotics to stop it spreading around the body."

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