Context Of children with sore throat, 15% to 36% have pharyngitis caused by group A β-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS). Performance of a GABHS test prior to antibiotic prescribing is recommended for children with sore throat. Penicillin, amoxicillin, erythromycin, and first-generation cephalosporins are the recommended antibiotics for treatment of sore throat due to GABHS.
Objectives To measure rates of antibiotic prescribing and GABHS testing and to evaluate the association between testing and antibiotic treatment for children with sore throat.
Design, Setting, and Participants Analysis of visits by children aged 3 to 17 years with sore throat to office-based physicians, hospital outpatient departments, and emergency departments in the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 1995 to 2003 (N = 4158) and of a subset of visits with GABHS testing data (n = 2797).
Main Outcome Measures National rates of antibiotic prescribing, prescribing of antibiotics recommended and not recommended for GABHS, and GABHS testing.
Results Physicians prescribed antibiotics in 53% (95% confidence interval [CI], 49%-56%) of an estimated 7.3 million annual visits for sore throat and nonrecommended antibiotics to 27% (95% CI, 24%-31%) of children who received an antibiotic. Antibiotic prescribing decreased from 66% of visits in 1995 to 54% of visits in 2003 (P = .01 for trend). This decrease was attributable to a decrease in the prescribing of recommended antibiotics (49% to 38%; P = .002). Physicians performed a GABHS test in 53% (95% CI, 48%-57%) of visits and in 51% (95% CI, 45%-57%) of visits at which an antibiotic was prescribed. GABHS testing was not associated with a lower antibiotic prescribing rate overall (48% tested vs 51% not tested; P = .40), but testing was associated with a lower antibiotic prescribing rate for children with diagnosis codes for pharyngitis, tonsillitis, and streptococcal sore throat (57% tested vs 73% not tested; P<.001).
Conclusions Physicians prescribed antibiotics to 53% of children with sore throat, in excess of the maximum expected prevalence of GABHS. Although there was a decrease in the proportion of children receiving antibiotics between 1995 and 2003, this was due to decreased prescribing of agents recommended for GABHS. Although GABHS testing was associated with a lower rate of antibiotic prescribing for children with diagnosis codes of pharyngitis, tonsillitis, and streptococcal sore throat, GABHS testing was underused.