The inverse news law: simple questions, important answers.

Two weeks ago, I received a prescriber’s update email, which was aimed at primary doctors to provide strategies and information to reduce antibiotic prescribing.

One of the pieces of evidence supplied, to underpin the evidence, was this 1967 observational study, published in JAMA,  on the characteristics of common viral illness.

This work reported rhinovirus (the common cold to you and me) ‘illness in young adults was characterized by rhinorrhea, nasal obstruction, sneezing, and pharyngeal discomfort. Length of illness ranged from 1 to 33 days, with a median of 7.42 days; one fourth of the illnesses lasted two weeks.’  However, it doesn’t install confidence, given the data is 46 years old.


Because the evidence is so out of date, and also since one of the most common questions that parents ask is “how long will my child’s symptoms last?” we published a systematic review, in the BMJ  on the duration of respiratory tract infections in children.

The research forms the basis of the inverse news law: it does not hit the headlines, but it is noteworthy because it is research that will impact directly on practice. For example,  90% of symptoms in croup will be resolved in children within 2 days, whereas in bronchiolitis it takes 21 days.  Of note, NICE and CDC provide no information on these two infections.

What’s neat about publishing in the BMJ,  is that the research is freely available to read.

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