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Clinical & Experimental Allergy

Non-immediate reactions to β-lactams: diagnostic value of skin testing and drug provocation test


Miguel Blanca, Allergy Service, Hospital Civil, Málaga, Spain. E-mail:


Background β-Lactam (BL) antibiotics can induce non-immediate skin reactions, frequently manifested as exanthema or urticaria. The time between drug intake and the reaction appearance is generally 24–48 h. Because the mechanisms involved are not completely understood, diagnostic tests for these reactions have still to be fully validated.

Objective To evaluate the role of skin and drug provocation tests (DPTs) in the diagnosis of patients with non-immediate reactions to BL.

Methods We evaluated a group of 22 patients who developed maculopapular exanthema or urticarial exanthema after BL intake. Diagnosis was confirmed by DPT with BL. Intradermal/patch testing was performed with benzylpenicilloyl, minor determinant mixture, amoxicillin (AX), ampicillin (AMP) and the culprit drug in patients and in 22 negative controls. Immunohistochemical studies were done in the affected skin at the acute phase of the reaction and after a delayed positive skin test/DPT. IFN-γ and IL-4 were quantified in peripheral mononuclear cells, obtained during the positive response to DPT and after resolution of the symptoms.

Results From the total number of cases, 12 patients developed urticarial exanthema and 10 maculopapular exanthema after DPT. Only two of the 22 patients (9%) had a positive delayed intradermal skin test: one to AX/AMP and the other to cloxacillin. Biopsies showed a mononuclear CD4, CD8 infiltrate and activated and memory cells. The cytokine expression showed a Th1 pattern in patients, in contrast with the Th0 pattern in controls.

Conclusion In patients with non-immediate reactions to BLs (maculopapular exathema or urticarial exanthema), the sensitivity of skin testing is low and DPT may be required to establish the diagnosis. The reproducibility of the reactions and the cytokine pattern expressed during the acute episode support a T cell-induced non-immediate response.

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