Health Watch: Are you still allergic to Penicillin?

SEATTLE, Wash. (KFSN) -- Penicillin and drugs in the penicillin family are some of the most used antibiotics in the world. About ten percent of people in the US think they're allergic to it, but more than nine out of ten of them aren't allergic at all. The CDC says that's a concern- because they could take an antibiotic that either doesn't work or has bad side effects.

Barbara Clements wants to know if she's allergic to penicillin. Both her husband and daughter believe they are. Her dad, too.

"I remember as a child, growing up, he was very careful about it. And so I was just wondering if it was hereditary," Clements said

Seth Cohen, MD, MSc, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Employee Health, Clinic Chief at Infectious Disease & Travel Medicine, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, and Clinical Assistant Professor, Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington says the nine out of ten people that wrongly think they're allergic to penicillin may be putting themselves at risk. This is especially true for patients who are elderly, immunosuppressed, pregnant, or need surgery.

Dr. Cohen said, "if you're labeled as having a penicillin allergy, you may be unnecessarily placed on a broad-spectrum antibiotic that can lead to side effects or may be less effective than something in the penicillin family."

A skin scratch test can reveal whether a patient has a penicillin allergy in a little less than an hour.

"Skin testing is a rapid office-based procedure where we can de-list somebody's penicillin allergy. That means we can tell them in the office that they do not have a penicillin allergy," Dr. Cohen stated.

He puts penicillin or saline on the skin, scratches it in, marks it and waits for a reaction, if there is one.

That means Clements is not allergic. Now she wants to get her husband and daughter tested.

Dr. Cohen says the skin test is safe and cost-effective, as it reduces the risk of complications in the hospital. Also, many people lose penicillin allergies in about ten years, so he and the CDC suggest being re-evaluated.
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