Streptococcal pharyngitis is a frequently observed condition, but its optimal management continues to be debated.
The goal of this study was to evaluate the available guidelines, developed at the national level, for the management of streptococcal pharyngitis in Western countries, with a focus on their differences.
A literature search was conducted of the Cochrane Library, EMBASE, TRIP, and MEDLINE databases from their inception (1993 for the Cochrane Library, 1980 for EMBASE, 1997 for TRIP, and 1966 for MEDLINE) through April 25, 2010. The following search terms were used: pharyngitis, sore throat, tonsillitis, pharyngotonsillitis, Streptococcus pyogenes, Group A ß-haemolytic Streptococcus pyogenes, and streptococcal pharyngitis. Searches were limited to type of article or document (practice guideline or guideline) with no language restrictions or language limits.
Twelve national guidelines were identified: 6 from European countries (France, United Kingdom, Finland, Holland, Scotland, and Belgium), 5 from the United States, and 1 from Canada. Recommendations differ substantially with regard to the use of a rapid antigen diagnostic test or throat culture and the indications for antibiotic treatment. The North American, Finnish, and French guidelines recommend performing one timely microbiologic investigation in suspected cases, and prescribing antibiotics in confirmed cases to prevent suppurative complications and acute rheumatic fever. According to the remaining European guidelines, however, acute sore throat is considered a benign, self-limiting disease. Microbiologic tests are not routinely recommended by these latter guidelines, and antibiotic treatment is reserved for well-selected cases. The use of the Centor score, for evaluation of the risk of streptococcal infection, is recommended by several guidelines, but subsequent decisions on the basis of the results differ in terms of which subjects should undergo microbiologic investigation. All guidelines agree that narrow-spectrum penicillin is the first choice of antibiotic for the treatment of streptococcal pharyngitis and that treatment should last for 10 days to eradicate the microorganism. Once-daily amoxicillin was recommended by 2 US guidelines as equally effective.
The present review found substantial discrepancies in the recommendations for the management of pharyngitis among national guidelines in Europe and North America.