Is a history of penicillin allergy at hospital admission dangerous to your health?

Published Online: November 7, 2013

Penicillin is still the most common drug allergy noted by individuals using health care in the United States. About 8% of the United States population thinks they are allergic to penicillin. It is already known that less than 2% of individuals who think they are allergic to penicillin are penicillin allergy testing positive. Individuals who are penicillin allergy test negative can safely use penicillin class antibiotics.

In a recent paper in The Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology (JACI), Macy et al, from Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, determined the total number of hospital days used and serious infections occurring in individuals admitted over a 3-year period with a history of penicillin allergy. They collected data on more than 50,000 hospitalized individuals with a history of penicillin allergy. They matched their outcomes to over 100,000 age, gender, date of admission, and discharge diagnosis matched control subjects, without a history of penicillin allergy. This large study represented about a 1% sample of the United States population.

Individuals with a history of penicillin allergy spent about 10% longer in the hospital, compared to control subjects. Individuals with a history of penicillin allergy had significantly higher rates of the three serious infections studied, Clostridium difficile, methicillin resistant Staph aureus, and vancomycin resistant enterococcus.

The authors note that testing individuals for penicillin allergy at hospital admission has the potential to save significant health care resources and reduce the morbidity associated with an inaccurate penicillin allergy history.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is an official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology