Immediate hypersensitivity reactions to beta-lactam antibiotics

Ann Intern Med. 1987 Aug;107(2):204-15. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-107-2-204.


Allergic reactions to the beta-lactam antibiotics (penicillins, cephalosporins, carbapenems, and monobactams) are a major factor limiting their use. Immediate hypersensitivity reactions to penicillins depend on the presence of preformed allergic (IgE) antibodies to several penicillin determinants. These materials can be used in in-vivo skin testing to exclude those patients at risk for immediate or accelerated allergic reactions. The cephalosporins have not had their relevant determinants defined as related to allergic reactions. The results of in-vivo challenges of patients with IgE to penicillin suggest the incidence of reactivity of cephalosporins in patients allergic to penicillin is less than generally appreciated. The monocyclic beta-lactam antibiotic, aztreonam (a monobactam), failed to show cross-reactivity with penicillin antibodies, because immune reactivity toward the monobactam was directed against side chain rather than nuclear determinants. On the other hand, the new bicyclic carbapenem beta-lactam drugs, represented by imipenem, showed extensive in-vivo cross-reactivity with penicillins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects*
  • Aztreonam / adverse effects
  • Cephalosporins / adverse effects
  • Cross Reactions
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / etiology*
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / chemically induced*
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / prevention & control
  • Imipenem
  • Penicillins / adverse effects
  • Skin Tests
  • Thienamycins / adverse effects


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Cephalosporins
  • Penicillins
  • Thienamycins
  • Imipenem
  • Aztreonam