Comparison of Centor and McIsaac scores in primary care: a meta-analysis over multiple thresholds

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BACKGROUND: Centor and McIsaac scores are both used to diagnose group A beta-haemolytic streptococcus (GABHS) infection, but have not been compared through meta-analysis.

AIM: To compare the performance of Centor and McIsaac scores at diagnosing patients with GABHS presenting to primary care with pharyngitis.

DESIGN AND SETTING: A meta-analysis of diagnostic test accuracy studies conducted in primary care was performed using a novel model that incorporates data at multiple thresholds.

METHOD: MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PsycINFO were searched for studies published between January 1980 and February 2019. Included studies were: cross-sectional; recruited patients with sore throats from primary care; used the Centor or McIsaac score; had GABHS infection as the target diagnosis; used throat swab culture as the reference standard; and reported 2 × 2 tables across multiple thresholds. Selection and data extraction were conducted by two independent reviewers. QUADAS-2 was used to assess study quality. Summary receiver operating characteristic (SROC) curves were synthesised. Calibration curves were used to assess the transferability of results into practice.

RESULTS: Ten studies using the Centor score and eight using the McIsaac score were included. The prevalence of GABHS ranged between 4% and 44%. The areas under the SROC curves for McIsaac and Centor scores were 0.7052 and 0.6888, respectively. The P-value for the difference (0.0164) was 0.419, suggesting the SROC curves for the tests are equivalent. Both scores demonstrated poor calibration.

CONCLUSION: Both Centor and McIsaac scores provide only fair discrimination of those with and without GABHS, and appear broadly equivalent in performance. The poor calibration for a positive test result suggests other point-of-care tests are required to rule in GABHS; however, with both Centor and McIsaac scores, a score of ≤0 may be sufficient to rule out infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e245-e254
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number693
Early online date26 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

©The Authors.


  • Centor score
  • McIsaac score
  • diagnosis
  • meta-analysis
  • pharyngitis
  • primary health care


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