Fewer than 1 percent of the 30 million people in the United States who think they have a penicillin allergy actually do, researchers predicted in a study published Oct. 23 in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases.
Christopher Bland, a clinical associate professor at the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy, said people often confuse a one-time side effect with an allergic reaction. Research shows that half of the people who experienced an allergic reaction don’t show evidence of an allergy five years later. After 10 years, that number jumped to 80 percent.
Penicillin remains the most effective and low-cost antibiotic available with the fewest side effects. Allergy specialists can test patients for a penicillin allergy, but the procedure is costly, and many hospitals don’t employ trained allergists. Bland and Bruce Jones, an infectious diseases clinical pharmacy specialist at St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System in Savannah, Ga., devised a simple program that begins with a one-page questionnaire. In a different study, researchers discovered the questionnaire alone could reduce the number of people who think they have a penicillin allergy by 20 percent. A follow-up skin test administered by a nurse showed that 90 out of 100 patients with a penicillin allergy listed on their medical record showed no allergy.
Researchers are working with more than 50 hospitals throughout the country to implement their assessments. “Our team is on a mission right now,” Bland said. “Our goal is that every penicillin allergy is questioned and reconciled, with most coming off medical records and allowing patients to get the best antibiotic for their particular infection, which is often a penicillin.” —J.B.