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Penicillin allergy? Think again.

Failure to test for reaction to drug leaves most people mislabeled

By
7:00am, December 11, 2016
penicillin rash

RASH CALL Red bumps in childhood can be mistakenly identified as a penicillin allergy. In later years, clinicians don’t verify the diagnosis, with potential consequences for both the individual and society.

Rashes are the temporary tattoos of childhood. The prickly, red bumps can blossom across the skin for a host of reasons: an ear infection, a virus or even an allergic reaction to a penicillin antibiotic. What’s hard to tell, though, is whether the penicillin or the illness itself triggers the rash. To be safe, doctors label some children as allergic to penicillin, but a skin test to verify the diagnosis rarely happens.

“These kids march into adulthood with a penicillin allergy label that’s never really addressed,” says Allison Ramsey, an allergist at Rochester Regional Health in New York.

About 10 percent of U.S. adults and children believe they have a penicillin allergy, the most commonly reported drug allergy. But 90 percent of people who think they’re allergic to penicillin actually aren’t, according to a 2010 report in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. There is a “massive problem with the overreporting of penicillin allergy,” Ramsey says.

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