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Teens at risk from misdiagnoses of throat infections

Dec 4, 2017 | Failure to Diagnose

Parents of teenagers in New York may want to be alert for complaints of sore throat from their kids. Serious sore throats that require a trip to the doctor could be caused a type of infection that many doctors don’t test for. If this infection goes untreated, it could lead to serious illness or even be fatal.

Doctors generally test patients who have a persistent sore throat for streptococcal (strep) infection. This is done by way of a throat culture. Strep throat can be treated with antibiotics, but if the tests are negative for strep, the treatment is usually just rest.

In some cases, a different infection called Fusobacterium necrophorum, or F-throat, is present. However, strep throat tests won’t catch it. If a doctor overlooks the possibility of F-throat and doesn’t do specific tests for it, the patient could develop a serious illness or even die.

In teenagers and young adults, F-throat is believed to be more common than strep throat. For one study, researchers determined the causes of sore throats in a group of university students and found that one-fifth of the students had F-throat. Only about one in 10 had strep throat.

F-throat can be treated with antibiotics, but it may require different antibiotics than strep throat. According to a medical columnist, one 17-year-old boy who was treated with antibiotics for strep actually had F-throat, but the antibiotics did not cure his condition and he later died as a result.

Misdiagnoses and failure to diagnose are similar occurrences that can cause many health problems for patients. Doctors are not expected to be perfect, but making a diagnostic mistake can be considered medical malpractice. When a doctor’s mistake harms a patient, that patient or their loved ones could be entitled to financial compensation.