Workgroup Report by the Joint Task Force Involving American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI); Food Allergy, Anaphylaxis, Dermatology and Drug Allergy (FADDA) (Adverse Reactions to Foods Committee and Adverse Reactions to Drugs, Biologicals, and Latex Committee); and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Botulism Clinical Treatment Guidelines Workgroup-Allergic Reactions to Botulinum Antitoxin: A Systematic Review

Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Dec 27;66(suppl_1):S65-S72. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix827.


Background: Naturally occurring botulism is rare, but a large number of cases could result from unintentional or intentional contamination of a commercial food. Despeciated, equine-derived, heptavalent botulinum antitoxin (HBAT) is licensed in the United States. Timely treatment reduces morbidity and mortality, but concerns that botulinum antitoxin can induce anaphylaxis exist. We sought to quantify the allergy risk of botulinum antitoxin treatment and the usefulness of skin testing to assess this risk.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review of (1) allergic reactions to botulinum antitoxin and (2) the predictive value of skin testing (ST) before botulinum antitoxin administration. We searched 5 scientific literature databases, reviewed articles' references, and obtained data from the HBAT manufacturer and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anaphylaxis incidence was determined for HBAT and previously employed botulinum antitoxins. We calculated the positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV) of ST for anaphylaxis related to HBAT and other botulinum antitoxins.

Results: Seven articles were included. Anaphylaxis incidence was 1.64% (5/305 patients) for HBAT and 1.16% (8/687 patients) for all other botulinum antitoxins (relative risk, 1.41 [95% confidence interval, .47-4.27]; P = .5). Observed values for both PPV and NPV for HBAT-ST (33 patients) were 100%. Observed PPVs and NPVs of ST for other botulinum antitoxins (302 patients) were 0-56% and 50%-100%, respectively. There were no reports of fatal anaphylaxis.

Conclusions: Considering the <2 % rate of anaphylaxis, fatal outcomes, modest predictive value of ST, resource requirements for ST, and the benefits of early treatment, data do not support delaying HBAT administration to perform ST in a mass botulinum toxin exposure. Anaphylactic reactions may occur among 1%-2% of botulinum antitoxin recipients and will require epinephrine and antihistamine treatment and, possibly, intensive care.

Keywords: allergy; anaphylaxis; botulinum antitoxin; botulism; equine antitoxin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anaphylaxis / chemically induced*
  • Anaphylaxis / diagnosis
  • Botulinum Antitoxin / adverse effects*
  • Botulinum Antitoxin / therapeutic use
  • Botulism / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / adverse effects*
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Skin Tests


  • Botulinum Antitoxin
  • Immunologic Factors