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Allergic to penicillin? Might want to check again.

By Janet Christenbury

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Many patients list a penicillin allergy on medical forms, but often these allergies are unconfirmed or low-risk.

Emory researchers say that 10 percent of hospitalized patients report a penicillin allergy, but recent studies indicate that approximately 98 percent of these patients are not acutely hypersensitive or are actually tolerant of penicillin. In fact, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, most people lose their penicillin allergy over time—even patients with a history of severe reaction such as anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction).

Emory researchers are trying to combat penicillin allergy labels in patients in these categories. They have determined that a direct oral amoxicillin (a penicillin antibiotic) challenge in the doctor’s office, without prior skin testing, is acceptable in patients with unconfirmed or low-risk penicillin allergy. Their findings were published in the journal Allergy & Asthma Proceedings.

“Unconfirmed penicillin allergy has emerged as a public health issue, and an evaluation of penicillin allergy labels is recommended to improve antibiotic stewardship,” says Merin Kuruvilla, assistant professor of pulmonary, allergy, critical care, and sleep medicine. Other Emory researchers in the study include assistant professors of medicine Jennifer Shih and Kiran Patel, and internal medicine resident Nicholas Scanlon.

“Penicillin is a very effective drug used to treat many different illnesses, yet many people avoid it because of their reported allergy,” Kuruvilla says. “Our research should help patients determine if their penicillin allergy exists, and if not, they can remove it from their listed allergies in their health record.”

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