What is pediatric pharyngitis?

Updated: Dec 11, 2018
  • Author: Harold K Simon, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
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Pharyngitis is a leading cause of pediatric ambulatory care visits. Examination of patients who present with sore throat may reveal tonsillitis, tonsillopharyngitis, or nasopharyngitis. [1] The absence of pharyngeal inflammation or the presence of rhinorrhea is much more likely to be associated with viral infection. However, no physical findings clearly separate group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS) from viral, other bacterial, or noninfectious causes.

The primary concern for pharyngitis in children aged 2 years or older is that untreated GABHS pharyngitis may subsequently cause rheumatic fever. To prevent this sequela, institute adequate antimicrobial therapy within 9 days of infection. Rapid antigen detection assays for GABHS are diagnostic if positive because the specificity of such tests is 98-99% (ie, 1-2% false-positive results); however, their sensitivity is only 70% (ie, 30% false-negative results), necessitating follow-up cultures for negative results.

The drug of choice for treatment of GABHS pharyngitis remains penicillin V, although many experts recommend a higher dosage than was used in the past. Other bacteria that occasionally cause pharyngitis and require antimicrobial therapy include gonococcus; Francisella tularensis; groups B, C, [2] and G streptococci; Arcanobacterium hemolyticum; and Treponema pallidum. No treatment is of any benefit for the usual viral causes of pharyngitis.

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