Open Access Open Badges Letter to the editor

Antibiotic skin testing accompanied by provocative challenges in children is a useful clinical tool

Fotini D Kavadas1*, Anna Kasprzak2 and Adelle R Atkinson2

Author Affiliations

1 Section of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Department of Pediatrics, Alberta Children’s Hospital and University of Calgary, 2888 Shaganappi Trail NW, Calgary, Alberta T3B 6A8, Canada

2 Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Department of Pediatrics, The Hospital for Sick Children, and University of Toronto, 555 University Ave. Rm7279 Elm/Burton wing, Toronto, Ontario M5G1X8, Canada

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Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology 2013, 9:22  doi:10.1186/1710-1492-9-22

Published: 14 June 2013



Diagnostic testing to antibiotics other than to penicillin has not been widely available, making the diagnosis of antibiotic allergy difficult and often erroneous. There is often reluctance in performing challenges to antibiotics when standardized testing is lacking. However, while the immunogenic determinants are not known for most antibiotics, a skin reaction at a non-irritating concentration (NIC) may mean that antibodies to the native form are present in the circulation. While the NIC’s for many non penicillin antibiotics have been determined in adults, the use of these concentrations for skin testing pediatric subjects prior to provocative challenge has not been done. Our objective was to determine if we could successfully uncover the true nature of antibiotic allergy in children using these concentrations for testing.


Children were included between 2003–2009 upon being referred to the Drug and Adverse Reaction/Toxicology (DART) clinic of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario Canada. The referral needed to demonstrate that clinical care was being compromised by the limitation in antibiotic options or there was a significant medical condition for which the label of antibiotic allergy may prove detrimental. Patients were not seen if there was a suggestion of serum like sickness, Stevens Johnson Syndrome or Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis. Patients were excluded from testing if there was objective evidence of anaphylaxis. All other patients were consented to receive testing and/or challenges. A retrospective chart review was then performed of the results.


We were able to exclude an antibiotic allergy in the majority of our patients who had a negative intradermal test result and were then challenged (>90%). Only one patient was challenged with a positive intradermal test to Cotrimoxazole because of a questionable history and this patient failed the provocative challenge. While we did not challenge more patients with positive testing, we did note that 10/11 (91%) patients with positive intradermal testing had some aspect of a Type 1 reaction in their history.


Through testing with NIC’s of various antibiotics in children and providing provocative challenges based on negative skin testing results, we were able to advance the medical care of the majority of our patients by increasing their antibiotic options in order to successfully treat future infections. While challenging patients with positive testing was not deemed ethically appropriate at this stage of our study, it would be a useful future step to reaching statistical validity of testing to these antibiotics.

Antibiotic allergy; Drug testing; Skin testing; Provocative challenge