Penicillin Allergy Awareness
September 28th is National Penicillin Allergy day, the anniversary of the day in 1928 that Sir Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. The purpose of this day is to bring awareness of how being labeled as Penicillin allergic can affect your healthcare. Up to 10% of the population thinks they are allergic to Penicillin. The vast majority of these people developed a rash while on an antibiotic during an acute illness while they had a fever and got labeled by a doctor, nurse or even their mom as having a Penicillin allergy. Other patients have developed stomach upset or diarrhea while on Augmentin and label themselves as being penicillin allergic when this is just a known side effect.
So what do you need to know? Up to 50% of people who are allergy tested to Penicillin at least 5 years from their reaction are negative and up to 80% are negative after 10 years from the reaction. Overall, 90% of patients who go through testing due to a history of a reaction are negative. Sometimes this is because the baseline reaction or rash was due to the infection itself and sometimes this is because the person has naturally outgrown the allergy.
There is a simple way to determine if you have a Penicillin allergy. In older children and adults a simple skin test has over 98% accuracy in ruling out the allergy. In younger kids not likely to tolerate the skin testing, there is a graded oral challenge to penicillin that can be done when they are well.
So why would one bother to do the testing if they do not need Penicillin right now?
The main reason to get tested now is that you can’t predict when you’re going to get a sinus infection, pneumonia or a skin infection that may require Penicillin
Another important reason is that patients who are labeled as having a Penicillin allergy have a 3 fold increased adverse events rate due to being prescribed stronger more toxic antibiotics and an increased rate of getting superbug infections like MRSA(methicillin resistant staph aureus) and C. diff.
If you or your loved one have been labeled as having a penicillin allergy, please consider coming in for testing.