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Nurses urged to verify 'penicillin allergy’ to avoid MRSA and C diff

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Healthcare staff are being urged to ensure only patients with a true penicillin allergy are documented as such to protect them from hospital infections.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued the warning, after new research found people labelled as having a penicillin allergy were at increased risk of developing Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile.

“That could help stop the spread of both MRSA and antimicrobial resistance”

Gillian Leng

The research suggests these patients were more likely to be given broad-spectrum antibiotics as an alternative to those containing pencilling, promoting antimicrobial resistance, according to NICE.

The study (see attached PDF below) by the NICE medicines evidence commentary measured the rates of MRSA and C difficile in people who are, correctly or not, documented as having a penicillin allergy, compared with those who do not. 

It found people with a labelled penicillin allergy were almost 70% more likely to develop MRSA – the bacteria often referred to as a “hospital superbug”. They are also around 25% more likely to develop C difficile, a bacteria that generally causes diarrhoea, it noted.


Gillian Leng

The study highlighted that around 10% of the UK population has a penicillin allergy documented in their clinical notes, but that only around 5% of these people actually are allergic to the drug.

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE said: “Lots of people think they are allergic to penicillin because it gave them a rash when they were a child, their mum or dad told them they were allergic and it has stayed in their notes for decades.

“That is a very different thing to having a true penicillin allergy, which can result in a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction,” she said. “If healthcare staff use NICE guidance to distinguish properly between the two, that could help stop the spread of both MRSA and antimicrobial resistance.”


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