Our local Student Society of Heath-System Pharmacy (SSHP) chapter created an educational task force to inform our community about penicillin allergies. Their first event was Saturday November 3rd at Soda City Market on Main Street in Downtown Columbia. The task force, accompanied by professors Dr. Julie Justo and Dr. Hana Rac, set out to ask a simple question, “Are You Truly Allergic to Penicillin?” Seventy-one market attendees approached the booth to find out the answer.
Many of the booth visitors had questions about their own penicillin allergy or an allergy of a family member or friend. After task force members inquired when and how the reactions presented, a common theme from the public included reactions that occurred at a young age with nonspecific rashes, or stomach upset. Visitors to our booth were surprised to learn that after 10 years, even with a true allergy, up to 80% of patients lose their sensitivity. The task force also clarified the difference between drug side effects and allergic reactions.
During their time at the market the task force, with the help of Drs. Justo and Rac, de-labeled two penicillin allergies. A ten-year old girl and her mother came to the booth to inquire about the girl’s allergy. She was labeled penicillin allergic at the age of 5 when she had a nonspecific reaction believed to be caused by the drug. The task force began to ask about her medication history. Her mom remembered many of the antibiotics the girl had taken over her lifetime including Omnicef and Rocephin - cephalosporin antibiotics which have similar structures to penicillin and a small chance of allergic cross-reactivity. At the end of the conversation, the mom briefly mentioned that the girl had also taken and tolerated Augmentin, which is a combination drug of amoxicillin and clavulanic acid. Additionally, a college-aged boy was de-labeled at our event after a brief investigation into his medication history based on his use and tolerance of amoxicillin in the past. Commonly, patients do not realize that amoxicillin is a penicillin antibiotic. If a patient who is labeled as penicillin allergic can tolerate amoxicillin, then they are no longer allergic to penicillin. With the right questions, pharmacists can remove their patients’ penicillin allergic labels allowing the use of more effective therapy and decreasing antibiotic resistance.
Furthermore, the task force excitedly discussed the penicillin allergy skin test and the role that pharmacists can play. It is currently available in select hospitals and clinics within South Carolina, with pharmacists administering the test in some of these settings. Many people were curious to hear about this one-hour test to determine true allergies that consists of a two-step process, including scratch testing and intradermal testing.
The SSHP penicillin allergy educational task force enjoyed helping the community investigate their penicillin allergies and can’t wait to continue educating Columbia residents at upcoming events.
To obtain a copy of the handout that was being dispersed please click here.