Many Penicillin Allergies Are Misdiagnosed, Study Finds

Some 10 percent of Americans are labelled with a penicillin allergy.
Some 10 percent of Americans are labelled with a penicillin allergy.
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The penicillin allergy label has often been shown to be a misdiagnosis, but over 80 percent of physicians never refer patients to an allergist to be re-tested for it, the study found.

Penicillin is frequently the most effective treatment choice for certain bacterial infections. Not being able to take it due to an allergy label could cause several issues for both the patient and the healthcare system as a whole, says Allison Ramsey, an author of the study.

"Patients with penicillin allergy have been shown to have longer hospital stays, more costly hospital stays… Antibiotics that are prescribed for them are often less effective and potentially have side effects," said Ramsey. "And there’s also concern that overuse of second-line antibiotics promotes anti-microbial resistance."

The CDC established an Antibiotic Stewardship program in 2014 to combat antibiotic resistance. One aspect of the program is pushing for doctors to revisit patients with penicillin allergy labels, in the hopes of avoiding excess use of antibiotics that can contribute to resistance.

Ramsey hopes the study will raise awareness about the penicillin allergy label… and help remove barriers to the most effective treatment.

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