Study shows lower than expected allergic-like events following second prescription of penicillin

(Philadelphia, PA) Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have concluded the world's largest analysis of penicillin allergy due to re-prescription of the popular antibiotic. Their initial findings may eventually lead to decreased use of alternative therapies, as initial results showed that actual allergic-like events to second prescriptions of penicillin for people who have already had allergic-like events to a prescription are not as widespread as previously believed (two percent instead of 60 percent.) The researchers caution that family doctors should not prescribe penicillin to patients with a history of allergic reaction. The study, which appears in the April edition of the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, involved a review of more than three million electronic medical records of patients in Great Britain who received a prescription for penicillin from 1987 to September 2001.

Of the 6,000 patients known to have suffered an allergic-like event after the first prescription such as hives, wheezing or anaphylaxis 48 percent actually received a second prescription, but only two percent of those had another allergic-like event. Previous medical research, involving smaller case study groups, had placed the figure for recurring allergic-like events at 60 percent. "Penicillin allergy is a significant problem in patient care because it is common and, in rare cases, can be life-threatening," said senior researcher Brian L. Strom, MD, MPH, Professor of public health and preventive medicine, Chair of Penn's Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, and Director of Penn's Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics (CCEB).

The reasons for the unexpectedly frequent rate of re-prescription remain unclear, but anecdotal evidence suggests that patients often do not know if they really have a penicillin allergy. Current testing which uses a skin-test reaction and is unavailable to family physicians r

Contact: David March
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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