Health First Offers Penicillin Allergy Testing: The Advantages in Care and Savings Are Worth It
By Space Coast Daily // June 23, 2023
Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center has begun offering penicillin allergy tests. If negative, the allergy will be removed from the patient’s chart, and their preferred pharmacy will be notified. This is especially important for expectant moms and future surgical patients.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Many Americans report a penicillin allergy. Tests show they’re mistaken. Penicillin, the World War II-era drug that swung the fight against many infections in doctors’ favor, is one of the most reported allergies on patient medical charts – and it doesn’t have to be.
About 30 million Americans report an allergy to penicillin or a penicillin-related antibiotic in their medical records. When tested for it, fewer than 1% have an actual immunoglobulin E-mediated reaction to the drug, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Why? One reason is that about 4 in 5 Americans who at one point did show symptoms of a true IgE-mediated penicillin allergy lose that sensitivity after 10 years. They “grow out of it,” as the saying goes.
Retired Dr. Peter Zies is one of them. As a young man, he had a vicious respiratory reaction to a dose of penicillin. For the next 50 years, his physicians worked around his allergy. But recently, as a hip replacement neared, his Orthopedic Surgeon, John Perry, MD, suggested he test that penicillin allergy.
“I’ve been giving a penicillin allergy history all these years,” Dr. Zies says. “I’m very happy [to have tested negative]. Now, it’s almost like a new antibiotic has been invented, but without having to invent the antibiotic.”
His wife, Dr. Leonor Zies, says she’ll be next to get tested.
Why does it matter?
The alternative to penicillin, typically, is broad-spectrum antibiotics, and while these work, they often are not physicians’ first choice and lead to antibiotic resistance – and they’re more expensive.
“I’ve met these patients who have been told all their lives that they’re allergic to penicillin-based antibiotics, and they’re scared of being given anything in that class,” says Michael Sanchez, Clinical Pharmacy Manager, Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center. “What happens then is they don’t get the preferred antibiotic before their operation – they get the second- or third-line antibiotic, and the numbers show a higher surgical-site infection rate.”
Important for Expectant Moms
For 30 years, the CDC has recommended expectant moms get a Group B Streptococcus (GBS) screen and prophylactic antibiotic treatment with penicillin.
Why? Because about 1 in 5 pregnant women are colonized by GBS. They risk transmission at delivery that can result in sepsis and death.
“Antibiotic treatment for women colonized by group B strep is an important and routine part of medical care during labor,” says Health First Obstetrician Adam Close, MD.
“The ideal antibiotic is formulated with penicillin, but 10% of patients report an allergy to it and are usually treated with alternative antibiotics, which can have more serious side effects. Confirming which patients have a true penicillin allergy will allow us to provide even safer maternity care.”
There’s one surefire way to find out if you are allergic to penicillin. Get tested.
At Holmes Regional, testing is done in three parts – a skin scratch test, intradermal injection, and small dose of amoxicillin. The process takes 90 minutes. Patients must have a physician referral.
If testing yields a negative IgE-mediated allergy to penicillin, the allergy will be removed from the patient’s chart, their Health First online patient portal, and their preferred pharmacy will be notified.
“I passed with flying colors,” said Jeri Heuston.
Heuston, a Certified Nursing Assistant by training, is allergic to a range of pharmaceuticals from common corticosteroids to ibuprofen. “I have a lot,” she said, but now, she has one fewer.
“To me, it matters. I would rather use penicillin because it’s been out for 70 years. Like amoxicillin– give me that rather than these new ones they’re developing. Let’s not test drive something else. Let’s pick something we know is going to work.”
“I would tell everybody and anybody, go get this done. It’s in a controlled environment. It will help. I was impressed.”
To find out more about Health First’s penicillin allergy testing, visit hf.org/allergy-testing. Patients must be referred for testing, so speak with a Provider. Visit HF.org/news to keep up with the latest at Health First.