Understanding antibiotic allergies and the risk of cross-sensitivity between and within antibiotic classes can have a substantial impact on patient care. The purpose of this review article is to provide insight into carbapenem allergies, describing the overall incidence, risk factors, and in-class cross-sensitivity. A PubMed search was conducted using the following search terms: carbapenem, allergy, cross-sensitivity, incidence, imipenem/cilastatin, meropenem, ertapenem, and doripenem. Article bibliographies and relevant drug monographs were also reviewed. The overall reported incidence of carbapenem allergy is 0.3%-3.7%. Risk of cross-sensitivity between penicillins and carbapenems is less than 1% in patients with a positive penicillin skin test. Data on cross-sensitivity between cephalosporins and carbapenems are limited; however, the risk appears to also be low. No clinical studies have described cross-sensitivity between the carbapenem agents thus far. The limited data available from case reports demonstrates a lack of cross-sensitivity between the individual carbapenems, suggesting that an alternative carbapenem may cautiously be used in patients with a reported carbapenem allergy.
Keywords: allergy; carbapenem; cross-sensitivity; doripenem; ertapenem; imipenem/cilastatin; meropenem.