Penicillin Allergy Overstated, Leading to Serious Infections

in Drug Allergy, Indoor Allergies
Published: March 18, 2014

California research finds that those who ask not be treated with pencillin because of a perceived allergy end up spending 10 percent more days in hospital than others who get the drug. And they face greater potential for severe infections.

The study was conducted by members of Kaiser Permanente, a medical cosortium, and were published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. A previous study by the same group found that fewer than 5 percent of people who report this “allergy” are actually allergic to penicillin.

“It is important to know if you are allergic to penicillin,” said Dr. Eric Macy, study author. “This medical history detail impacts not only critical health-care decisions, but it greatly impacts cost.”

Macy’s team examined more than 51,000 hospital records from 2010-2012, finding that 11 percent of admitted patients declared themselves to be allergic to penicillin. These patients were found have 10 percent more days in hospital, greater health-care costs, and were more likely to become infected with antibiotic-resistant infections, such as Clostridium difficile, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus.

Yet in the 2013 study, more than 95 percent of those reporting a penicillin allergy turned out not to be allergic to it. What many people do not realize is that this drug allergy is often outgrown.

If you have a history of penicillin allergy that dates back to childhood, the study authors suggest visiting an allergist for retesting and confirmation.