The number of people allergic to penicillin may be much smaller than physicians currently
suspect, new data suggest.
During 3 months last year, researchers identified 24 people in the intensive care unit of the
Cleveland Clinic whose medical charts showed a history of penicillin allergy. But when the
researchers subjected 21 of these patients to skin-scratch tests for penicillin reactions, the
results were negative for all but one.
Either these patients had misreported the drug allergy, or it had worn off over the years.
Three patients weren't tested because, according to their medical history, they had once
responded to the antibiotic with a life-threatening allergic reaction, in which a person's throat
can swell shut. A scratch test could have triggered such a reaction, says study coauthor
Alejandro C. Arroliga, a critical-care physician at the clinic.