Journalist and infectious disease specialist Dr. Abigail Zuger tackled one rarely discussed aspect of the serious problem of drug-resistant bugs: overuse of penicillin alternatives due to patients claiming penicillin allergy when, in fact, they are not really allergic.
Here's the link to the NYTimes article: Penicillin Allergies Overblown
"About one in 10 Americans reports a serious allergy to the antibiotic penicillin or any of several closely related drugs. Yet in about 90 percent of cases, no serious allergy exists." Maybe the patient had an untoward side effect -- and not allergy. Or maybe what the patient attributed to allergy was, in fact, a symptom of the illness for which the penicillin was prescribed. Then, of course, patients may remember incorrectly which drug caused an allergic reaction, blaming it on penicillin.
"The right option is to address the matter with the available scientific tools. A system of skin tests can predict with precision whether a person can safely get penicillin and its many relatives." And for patients with true penicillin allergy for whom penicillin is the only truly effective treatment for a patient's problem, an uncomfortable daylong desensitization process is available.
The huge problems with prescribing penicillin alternatives instead of determining which patients truly need these broader-spectrum drugs include (1) killing off beneficial bacteria in patients and (2) encouraging the rise of drug-resistant bugs in our world.
Next: The Problem Behind the Problem of Overblown Stories of Penicillin Allergies.