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Austin service helping hundreds lose their allergies

16 February 2019

Most people diagnosed with an allergy to antibiotics such as penicillin simply assume this is something they'll carry with them for life.

But more than 800 people who have visited Austin Health's Antibiotic Allergy Clinic and partnering service at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since it opened in 2015 have found out they are no longer carrying an allergy.

Austin Health's Dr Jason Trubiano, said 83% of the almost 1000 patients seen in the clinic have had their allergy removed from their medical record.

"Antibiotic allergies are like food and other types of allergies, people can grow out of them over time," Dr Trubiano said.

"The dedicated Antibiotic Allergy Clinic at the Austin is the first of its kind in Victoria and assesses people who have previously been diagnosed with an allergy to things like penicillin.

"Patients and their families often simply don't realise they are no longer allergic until we test them.

"These can be patients who have had a severe reaction in the past including anaphylaxis but for a variety of reasons are no longer carrying the allergy they once had.

"Other times it is patients who have been wrongly diagnosed as allergic. They may have experienced nausea or another side effect after taking a certain antibiotic but this does not necessarily mean they are allergic," he said.

The Minister for Health, Jenny Mikakos, welcomed the work being done by Austin Health's clinic.

"More than 10% of the population have been 'labelled' allergic to penicillin but only one to two per cent are actually carrying an allergy," Minister Mikakos said.

"And we know that if someone is found to no longer to allergic, it makes them 12 times more likely to receive the correct antibiotic.

"By testing patients and identifying that they are no longer allergic to an antibiotic like penicillin, we are able to treat them with the first choice antibiotics," she said.

Dr Trubiano said the multidisciplinary clinic is run in collaboration with pharmacists, infectious diseases physicians, allergists and anaesthetists.

"While more than 80% of the patients we see in the clinic are no longer allergic it's important we also provide solutions for patients who are still found to be carrying an allergy," he said.

"By working with staff from a variety of health disciplines we are able to look for another way forward for those patients who are still allergic to particular antibiotics.

"Testing through the clinic can help provide a clear list of alternative medications giving both the patient and their treating doctor options that are both safe and suitable.

"The type of testing performed includes skin testing and oral challenges," Dr Trubiano said.

The clinic runs once a week at the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg with a focus on testing patients who frequently require antibiotic therapies, and takes referrals from GPs and other health services.

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