FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A scratchy, swollen throat with a high fever is the signal to parents that it's time for doctors to test for strep throat: a common childhood infection that can make a kid miserable for days. New research shows that in some cases, what looks like strep, may really be another bacterial infection with the potential for deadly complications.
College student J.R. McKissick woke up in the middle of the night with his throat on fire.
McKissick told ABC30, "It felt like knives every time I would swallow, all the way down my throat."
Normally, this fourth-year optometry student would ignore it, but he had just learned about a bacterial infection that had the potential to make him very sick.
Robert Centor, MD, Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham discovered that when young adults are sick, a little known bacterium called fusobacterium necrophorum is often the culprit.
Dr. Centor told ABC30, "We found that it was a more common cause of significant sore throats than strep was."
Researchers looked at lab cultures of more than 300 college students with sore throats, and found 20 percent had fusobacterium. Only 10 percent had type A strep.
"Strep is not as dangerous as this," Dr. Centor explained.
Dr. Centor says one in 400 with "fuso" develop a condition called Lemierre's syndrome. The infection moves into the jugular vein and forms a clot.
"It ruins lives. It has about a 5-percent mortality," Dr. Centor said.
Dr. Centor says if a sore throat lasts more than five days, or gets worse, if a patient has swelling on one side of the neck, or drenching night sweats, it's time to get checked out.
J. R. McKissick's illness was not caused by fuso, but it won't stop him from visiting the student health center every time he has a severe sore throat.
Dr. Centor also says fusobacterium infections can be successfully treated with penicillin. Unlike strep throat, there is no rapid test for "fusobacterium" making it difficult to diagnose. Dr. Centor says "fusobacterium" was almost wiped out years ago by routine antibiotic use, but has been making a comeback over the past 10 years, as people have become concerned with antibiotic resistance.
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