NewsAnnouncements : WRNMMC celebrates National Penicillin Allergy Day, highlights innovations in penicillin allergy assessment

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WRNMMC celebrates National Penicillin Allergy Day, highlights innovations in penicillin allergy assessment


By A.J. Simmons

WRNMMC Command Communications

Walter Reed Bethesda will celebrate National Penicillin Allergy Day Thursday, Sept. 28. The day shines a spotlight on the newest advancements in assessing, diagnosing and treating penicillin allergy.
“It falls on the day that Alexander Flemming—a red-letter day in his diary—said, ‘I’ve found penicillin,’” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Taylor Banks, the clinic chief of the Allergy Clinic and the Navy assistant chief for Graduate Medical Education at WRNMMC. The importance of recognizing National Penicillin Allergy Day is that it sheds light on the over-diagnosing of penicillin allergy in modern medicine, according to Banks.
“A lot of things get confused for the penicillin allergy, especially in childhood,” Banks explained. “About 10 percent of the population is labelled as penicillin allergic, but when you actually dig into it, 99 percent of them can be cleared safely and effectively.”
Banks elaborated that this over-diagnosis is an easily surmounted problem: “I think our approach to penicillin allergy has evolved over time…and a lot of literature has allowed us to both safely and more efficiently evaluate penicillin allergy. We’re approaching that 99 percent clearance rate, so we’re matching up with what is out there in the literature.”
The ability to clear patients of penicillin allergy, as Banks points out, is a “win for everybody.” Patients who are cleared of penicillin allergy gain access to first-line antibiotics that they would otherwise not be prescribed. Providers also benefit from the high rate of clearance, as their patients have fewer side-effects and fewer resistant bacterial infections. In addition, providers are able to practice “evidence-based guidelines in terms of what antibiotics [they] want to choose.”
Banks also noted the unique connection to operational readiness brought about by being able to clear service members of penicillin allergies. “[Service members labelled with penicillin allergy] get red dog tags, and again, in most cases those are going to be unnecessary, because with proper evaluation, we know that we can clear the vast majority of folks,” said Banks.
He furthered that in downrange and more austere environments, “having the full range of what are often first-line agents and what are more readily available to the folks in theater…makes a big difference from an operational readiness standpoint.”
The process of penicillin allergy evaluation has taken considerable strides over the past year at WRNMMC, according to Banks. In particular, he noted that the efficiency with which the Penicillin Clinic is able to safely and effectively assess patients has improved to a point that patients now spend significantly less time in the clinic
“That has been great for our patients, who don’t have to spend a couple hours with us,” he said. “Usually it’s just over an hour that they spend in our clinic. That’s probably the most exciting thing: that we’re able to expand the number of patients that we can help.”
Banks offered credit to the multidisciplinary approach used to assess penicillin allergy, which includes the departments of infectious disease, allergy/immunology and pharmacy across a number of Military Health System facilities.
“You need all of those stakeholders in the mix to make this an effective effort and to make sure everybody’s aware. We’ve directly linked with the Naval Academy, with the Readiness Clinic here at Walter Reed, the Readiness Clinic at DiLorenzo Health Care Clinic and the Active Duty Medical Home Port in internal medicine,” Banks explained. “This is a readiness issue, and so each of those sites has a point of contact who can directly book into the Penicillin Clinic.”
Moving forward, Banks hopes to further develop the process of making and receiving referrals more efficient for patients, establishing a no-hassle process for their allergies to be evaluated at the Penicillin Clinic.
Planning ahead for National Penicillin Allergy Day, Banks pointed out that the most important reason for the day is to spread awareness, saying, “That’s what we really need. [Awareness] that this testing exists, it’s available, it’s safe and it has manifold benefits not just for the general population, but I think particularly for the military population.”
During National Penicillin Allergy Day, booths and tables will be set up across WRNMMC to provide patients, families and staff with educational materials regarding penicillin allergy. Banks highlighted the day as an opportunity to directly engage with patients and provides and educate them on the necessity of penicillin allergy assessments for operational readiness.
To learn more about the Allergy Clinic, the Penicillin Clinic or National Penicillin Allergy Day, go to www.wrnmmc.capmed.mil or call (301) 295-4510.