Self-sampling to identify pathogens and inflammatory markers in patients with acute sore throat: Feasibility study
Lown M., Miles EA., Fisk HL., Smith KA., Muller I., Maund E., Rogers K., Becque T., Hayward G., Moore M., Little P., Glogowska M., Hay AD., Stuart B., Mantzourani E., Butler C., Bostock J., Davies F., Dickerson I., Thompson N., Francis N.
Introduction: Sore throat is a common reason for overuse of antibiotics. The value of inflammatory or biomarkers in throat swab or saliva samples in predicting benefit from antibiotics is unknown. Methods: We used the ‘person-based approach’ to develop an online tool to support self-swabbing and recruited adults and children with sore throats through participating general practices and social media. Participants took bacterial and viral swabs and a saliva sponge swab and passive drool sample. Bacterial swabs were cultured for streptococcus (Group A, B, C, F and G). The viral swab and saliva samples were tested using a routine respiratory panel PCR and Covid-19 PCR testing. We used remaining viral swab and saliva sample volume for biomarker analysis using a panel of 13 biomarkers. Results: We recruited 11 asymptomatic participants and 45 symptomatic participants. From 45 symptomatic participants, bacterial throat swab, viral throat swab, saliva sponge and saliva drool samples were returned by 41/45 (91.1%), 43/45 (95.6%), 43/45 (95.6%) and 43/45 (95.6%) participants respectively. Three saliva sponge and 6 saliva drool samples were of insufficient quantity. Two adult participants had positive bacterial swabs. Six participants had a virus detected from at least one sample (swab or saliva). All of the biomarkers assessed were detectable from all samples where there was sufficient volume for testing. For most biomarkers we found higher concentrations in the saliva samples. Due to low numbers, we were not able to compare biomarker concentrations in those who did and did not have a bacterial pathogen detected. We found no evidence of a difference between biomarker concentrations between the symptomatic and asymptomatic participants but the distributions were wide. Conclusions: We have demonstrated that it is feasible for patients with sore throat to self-swab and provide saliva samples for pathogen and biomarker analysis. Typical bacterial and viral pathogens were detected but at low prevalence rates. Further work is needed to determine if measuring biomarkers using oropharyngeal samples can help to differentiate between viral and bacterial pathogens in patients classified as medium or high risk using clinical scores, in order to better guide antibiotic prescribing and reduce inappropriate prescriptions.