The Falling Rate of Positive Penicillin Skin Tests from 1995 to 2007


Eric Macy, MD; Michael Schatz, MD, MS; CK Lin, PhD; Kwun-Yee Poon, MS

Spring 2009 - Volume 13 Number 2


Background: Data on the rate of positive penicillin skin test (PenST) results over time in large populations are rare. The factors that influence positive PenST results are incompletely understood.

Objectives: We sought to correlate demographic variables to the rate of positive PenST results over time in a large group of patients with a history of penicillin allergy.

Methods: Results from the first test for all patients tested for penicillin allergy in the Kaiser Permanente Health Care Program in San Diego County, CA, between 1995 and 2007 are reported. All patients were tested with penicillin, penicilloyl-poly-lysine, penilloate, penicilloate, and amoxicillin.

Results: There were 255 positive PenST results in 3469 individuals. The rate of positive PenST results declined from >10% to <5% during the 13 years studied. The positive PenST result rate could be accounted for by the year of testing (R2 = 0.56; p = 0.003) without any significant contribution from the patient’s age or the time since reaction (TSR). If the TSR was ≤13 years, the relative risk of a positive PenST result was 2.1 (95% confidence interval = 1.6–2.8). If the study subject’s age was ≤38 years, the relative risk of a positive PenST result was 2.1 (95% confidence interval = 1.6–2.7). Females reported higher rates of penicillin allergy history than males did (11% compared with 6.6%; p < 0.0001), but there were no significant sex differences in the rate of positive PenST results.

Conclusions: There has been a steady decline in the proportion of positive PenST results between 1995 and 2007, independent of study subject age and TSR. Increasing age and increasing TSR were associated with a lower rate of positive PenST results.


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