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Is penicillin-allergy rate overstated?

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6:08pm, November 8, 2004

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.

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