Surgical patients with recorded penicillin allergy may be at 50 per cent higher risk of developing infections, new research has found.

The study published online in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases indicates that preoperative penicillin evaluation could effectively reduce surgical site infections in these patients

“This study has direct clinical significance,” said lead author Kimberly Blumenthal from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in the US.

The researchers noted that 40 per cent of health-care-related infections in hospitalised patients occur at the site of surgical incisions, and such infections can lead to complications and even death.

They also significantly increase health care costs.

The researchers reviewed the medical records of almost 8,400 patients who underwent common surgical procedures – hip or knee replacement, hysterectomy, colon surgery and coronary artery bypass – at the MGH from 2010 through 2014.

Of that total, 922 patients had penicillin allergy noted in their medical record, a proportion similar to that of the general population.

Overall 214 patients developed a surgical site infection: 3.5 per cent of those with documented penicillin allergy compared with 2.6 per cent of those without.

The risk of a surgical site infection was found to be 50 per cent higher in patients with a reported penicillin allergy, and the only factor clearly associated with infection risk was the type of antibiotic patients received.

A review of available information about the reactions leading to the patients’ allergy diagnoses revealed that practically all of them could have safely received standard testing for penicillin allergies.