Immunotherapy with Hymenoptera venoms

Position paper of the Working Group on Immunotherapy of the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology


Dr. J. Bousquet, Clinique des Maladies Respiratories, Hôpital Aiguelongue, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire, 34059 Montpellier Cedex, France


Immunotherapy with Hymenoptera venoms is widely used throughout the world and is accepted as an effective treatment for most patients with Hymenoptera venom allergy. There are, however, still some unresolved problems with this form of treatment. At present there is no definite test which makes it possible to identify patients at risk - and thus candidates for immunotherapy - unequivocally. On the basis of prospective studies on the natural history of Hymenoptera allergy, venom immunotherapy is indicated in adults with severe systemic anaphylaxis. It is usually not necessary in patients with large local reactions only. Children with mild systemic reactions, e.g. urticaria, will need immunotherapy only in case of repeated reactions and/or a high risk of re-exposure. The selection of venoms for immunotherapy may lead to some confusion owing to common antigenic determinants shared by venoms of various Hymenoptera species. Many different regimens for immunotherapy have been proposed. At present, the three main are: rush, stepwise or clustered and classical. The maintenance dose of 100 μg usually protects from life-threatening reactions. However, in some patients 200 μg are necessary for complete protection. The usual interval between maintenance injections is 4 to 6 weeks. In many patients a strong increase of venom specific serum IgG-antibodies usually parallels clinical protection induced by venom immunotherapy, although many exceptions have been reported. Allergic side effects of venom immunotherapy are not rare, especially with honey bee venom and during the initial phase of dose increase. The question of the duration of venom immunotherapy is handled differently: although some authors recommend treatment for life, most suggest treating patients until skin tests and RAST become negative.