Oral Penicillin Challenge vs. Skin Testing: Diagnosing Low-Risk Patients with Reported Penicillin Allergy
By Richard R. Watkins, MD, MS, FACP, FIDSA, FISAC
Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Northeast Ohio Medical University, Rootstown, OH
SYNOPSIS: In a comparison of direct oral penicillin challenge in low-risk patients to skin testing followed by oral challenge, researchers reported no significant differences. Direct oral penicillin challenge appears to be a safe and effective way to delabel a penicillin allergy.
SOURCE: Copaescu AM, Vogrin S, James F, et al. Efficacy of a clinical decision rule to enable direct oral challenge in patients with low-risk penicillin allergy: The PALACE randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med 2023; Jul 17:e232986. [Online ahead of print].
A penicillin allergy label can carry important negative implications for patients. Using alternative agents to penicillin and other beta-lactams can lead to higher costs and an increased risk of adverse events, and can promote the development of antimicrobial resistance. Therefore, delabeling a penicillin allergy could be critical for both patients and the healthcare system.
Copaescu et al sought to determine whether a direct oral penicillin challenge would be equivalent to penicillin skin testing followed by oral challenge in low-risk patients. This was a multicenter, randomized clinical trial conducted in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Participants were at least age 18 years and were referred to an allergy clinic with a low-risk penicillin allergy. Risk status was determined using PEN-FAST, a clinical decision rule that stratifies penicillin allergy in adults. Those with a PEN-FAST score of 3 or lower were eligible for inclusion. For reference, anaphylaxis that requires treatment represents a PEN-FAST score of 3. Patients were excluded if they reported anaphylaxis to penicillin or other drugs, or if they reported an adverse reaction to penicillin (e.g., headache or nausea) rather than a true allergy. Patients were randomized 1:1 to either direct oral penicillin challenge (the intervention group) or intradermal testing and, if negative, then an oral penicillin challenge (control group). The primary outcome was a physician-verified positive oral penicillin challenge, defined as an immediate reaction occurring within one hour following ingestion of the penicillin consistent with an immune-mediated reaction. The investigators calculated that noninferiority would be achieved if the 95% confidence interval (CI) of the risk difference was ≤ 5 percentage points.
There were 187 patients randomized to the intervention group and 190 to the control group. The two groups were similar regarding their baseline characteristics. Most recorded a PEN-FAST score of 0-1 (94% in the intervention group, 97% in the control group). The primary outcome occurred in one patient in the intervention group and one in the control group. This result met the noninferiority margin of five percentage points.
In the five days after the penicillin challenge, nine immune-mediated adverse events occurred in the intervention group and 10 events occurred in the control group. There were no serious adverse reactions in either group. The two patients who experienced the primary outcome both developed a mild cutaneous skin reaction that resolved after a single dose of an antihistamine. Finally, the penicillin allergy label was removed in 186 of 187 participants in the intervention group and 186 of 190 in the control group. Four patients in the control group were excluded from the oral challenge because of a positive intradermal skin test.
Approximately 10% of people carry a diagnosis of penicillin allergy, making it the most common drug allergy.1 Of these, less than 5% are truly allergic. The delabeling of a penicillin allergy can be beneficial from efficacy, safety, and healthcare cost perspectives. Thus, the Copaescu et al study is welcome news for all clinicians involved with antibiotic stewardship. It provides high-quality evidence suggesting direct oral challenge is an effective and safe method of assessing low-risk penicillin allergies.
Delabeling a penicillin allergy has become a high priority for many antibiotic stewardship programs, in concurrence with recent World Health Organization recommendations.2 One hopes this study will be used to inform future versions of antibiotic stewardship guidelines, such as those from the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.3 Further research is warranted to explore whether direct oral challenge can abrogate non-beta-lactam antibiotic allergies in low-risk patients, as well as in other populations (e.g., inpatients and children).
Despite a robust design, there were a few limitations to this study. First, 94% of patients recorded a PEN-FAST score of 0 or 1, which limits the generalizability of the findings to those with a score of 2. Second, the trial’s open-label design could have affected the assessment of the primary outcome, since patients in the intervention group did not undergo skin testing. Finally, conducting the trial in high-income countries might limit the generalizability to other geographic locations.
Skin testing for penicillin allergy is a labor-intensive and expensive intervention that is not available for many patients in high-, middle-, and low-income countries. The success of direct oral challenge for low-risk patients with a penicillin allergy is a positive development that, hopefully, will be widely recognized and implemented.
1. Warrington R, Fanny Silviu-Dan F. Drug allergy. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol 2011;7 (Suppl 1):S10.
2. World Health Organization. Antimicrobial stewardship programmes in health-care facilities in low- and middle-income countries: A WHO practical toolkit. Oct. 22, 2019.
3. Barlam TF, Cosgrove SE, Abbo LM, et al. Implementing an antibiotic stewardship program: Guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. Clin Infect Dis 2016;62:e51-e77.
In a comparison of direct oral penicillin challenge in low-risk patients to skin testing followed by oral challenge, researchers reported no significant differences. Direct oral penicillin challenge appears to be a safe and effective way to delabel a penicillin allergy.
Subscribe Now for Access
You have reached your article limit for the month. We hope you found our articles both enjoyable and insightful. For information on new subscriptions, product trials, alternative billing arrangements or group and site discounts please call 800-688-2421. We look forward to having you as a long-term member of the Relias Media community.