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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Allergen Immunotherapy: No Evidence of Infectious Risk

Nearly three million Americans this year will be administered subcutaneous allergen immunotherapy for a variety of different reasons, including allergic rhinitis, asthma, allergic conjunctivitis, and venom allergy.  Altogether, these are over 16 million allergy shots.  Despite low risks of a large local reaction (0.7-4%) or systematic allergic reaction (0.2%), it has been shown to be relatively safe, cost-effective disease-modifying treatment.  However, recent proposed changes by the United States Pharmacopoeia requiring that vials of allergens be mixed in a strictly sterile fashion threaten the availability of allergen immunotherapy.

To investigate whether this is a real concern, Balekian and colleagues looked through the records of over 3000 patients who collectively received more than 130,000 injections over the preceding 10 years from Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2016; 137(6): 1887-1888).  They could not find evidence of any local or systemic bacterial infection due to allergen immunotherapy.

Their research supports the community of allergists who maintain that current practices to guarantee sterility and safety are enough to prevent bacterial infection.  They conclude that the proposed changes won’t make a difference in infection rates, but will prevent people who need allergen immunotherapy from receiving them.

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