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Return of a Vanished Disease

We are told not to over-use antibiotics, especially for minor problems like a sore throat, or else our bodies will become resistant to them. But this new medical policy may have caused the return of a potentially fatal disease that had almost vanished.

Lemierre's disease was fairly common early in the 20th century and was eradicated when antibiotics were ntroduced. But British researchers have noticed a resurgence of the disease.

"We haven't seen it, and suddenly we saw three cases within a few months," said Wynne Jones, a consultant medical microbiologist with the Public Health Laboratory Service in England.

Intrigued by these reports, Jones and her colleague Terry Riordan collected six years of records from eight public health laboratories and found 11 other cases of the disease.

Lemierre's Disease effects young, healthy adults. The first symptom is asore throat, but the bacteria later travel into the blood, infecting thelungs, liver and joints. It can be fatal if not treated with antibiotics.

Wynne and Riordan suspect that the once rare disease has resurfaced becausedoctors no longer prescribe antibiotics for sore throats. Most sore throatsare caused by viruses, which are not effected by antibiotics.

"In the old days, they were quite liberal in treating sore throats withantibiotics, and that's likely why Lemierre's disappeared," said Jones. "Andnow, because of antibiotic resistance, people are being far more cautiouswith prescribing antibiotics."

"Certainly, in this country, there is heavy pressure on doctors,particularly those in general practice, not to use antibiotics for treatingsore throats," agreed Riordan. He says that Lemierre's is not a wide-spreadthreat. "It's unquestionably a small thing. It's never going to have a hugepublic health impact. It would be quite wrong to give that impression, butit is worth raising awareness about this.

"A number of microbiologists were unaware of the condition until wementioned it to them," he added. "They'd never seen a case of it, neverheard of it."

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