Microbiology Case Study: A 21 Year Old Female with a Sore Throat

A 21 year-old female presented to the emergency department with a sore throat. Her symptoms started two weeks prior to presentation. She was seen at student health last week and given Tamiflu, but her sore throat has grown progressively worse. She now has pain with swallowing and cannot swallow liquids. Upon examination the patient has no rash, no fever, and is not in respiratory distress. She does have left tonsillar fullness causing her uvula to be slightly deviated to the right along with an enlarged left cervical lymph node. Her complete blood count (CBC) was elevated at 19.7 x103/ul (reference range 4-10 x103/ul) with 12% lymphocytes, 2% monocytes, and 83% neutrophils. A rapid antigen test for S. pyogenes or Group A Streptococcus was negative. A CT exam of the neck was performed and a peritonsillar abscess of 1 x 1.3 x 1.6 cm was identified. The abscess was drained resulting in 1 ml of yellow purulent fluid which was sent to the microbiology lab for culture. The following was Gram stain was prepared from the abscess material.

Fusobacterium necrophorum Gram stain


The Gram stain of this abscess showed 4+ PMNs and 4+ small, pleomorphic gram negative bacilli. Anaerobic culture grew Fusobacterium necrophorum, identified by MALDI-TOF MS with a confidence score of 2.2. F. necrophorum is a non-motile, non-pigment forming, pleomorphic gram negative bacilli. It is a strict anaerobe that tests catalase negative, indole positive, and lipase positive on egg yolk agar. Anaerobic antibiotic disk testing for this organism shows susceptibility to kanamycin and colistin with resistance to vancomycin.

The two most clinically relevant species of Fusobacterium are F. nucleatum and F. necrophorum. Because they are strict anaerobes which are often not recovered in culture, Fusobacterium spp. are an under-recognized cause of disease. F. necrophorum colonizes the oral cavity, and like other colonizing anaerobes, it tends to cause infections near the mucosal surface where it resides. F. necrophorum most commonly causes pharyngitis, recurrent tonsillitis, and other odontogenic infections. In adolescents, 10% of tonsillitis that is not caused by S. pyogenes can be attributed to F. necrophorum. These infections can progress to septic thrombophlebitis of the internal jugular vein (Lemierre’s syndrome), bacteremia, and rarely F. necrophorum can cause abscesses throughout the body. Because it is an anaerobic bacterium, susceptibility testing is rarely performed on isolates of F. necrophorum. They are highly susceptible to β-lactam–β-lactamase inhibitor combinations, carbapenems, and metronidazole.

Lemierre’s syndrome was of great concern in our patient since it is most commonly observed in adolescents and young adults that were previously healthy, like our patient. Fortunately, CT scan of the neck showed no indication of thrombophlebitis in our patient. After drainage of the abscess, she felt much better and was able to tolerate liquids. The patient was discharged from the ED with a course of amoxicillin/clavulanate (augmentin). Upon follow up in ENT clinic she gave a more through history of 4-5 episodes of sore throat over the past year.


  1. Manual of Clinical Microbiology, 11th edition
  2. Principles and Practices of Infectious Disease, 7th edition


-Erin McElvania, PhD, D(ABMM), is the Director of Clinical Microbiology NorthShore University Health System in Evanston, Illinois.

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