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Most Allergic Deaths from Medications; Older People, African-Americans Usual Victims

Montefiore/Einstein research seeks risk factors to allow physicians to develop preventative strategies

Pharmacist explains drug danger to older womanSept. 30, 2014 – When we hear of allergy-related sudden death, most of us probably think of something in the surrounding environment – like a plant, or something in the air. We would be wrong. Medications are the leading cause of allergy-related sudden deaths in the U.S. And, the risk of fatal drug-induced allergic reactions is increasing rapidly and is particularly high among older people and African-Americans.

An analysis of death certificates from 1999 to 2010 was conducted by researchers at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. Their study was published online today in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunolog.

Anaphylaxis is the term used for a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds or minutes following exposure to an allergen. Until now, data on trends in anaphylactic deaths - or even the number of yearly deaths from anaphylactic shock - has not been well-defined. One reason: unlike countries such as the UK, the U.S. doesn't maintain a national registry for anaphylaxis deaths.

"Anaphylaxis-related deaths in the U.S. have not been well understood in recent years," said Elina Jerschow , M.D., M.Sc. director, Drug Allergy Center, Allergy and Immunology Division of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center, and assistant professor of medicine, Albert Einstein College, the lead author of the study.


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"We hope these findings will help in identifying specific risk factors and allow physicians to formulate preventative approaches."

Dr. Jerschow and colleagues analyzed death certificates from the U.S. National Mortality Database and found that medication-related anaphylaxis was the most common cause of death (58.8 percent).

Additional causes identified included unspecified anaphylaxis (19.3 percent), venom (15.2 percent) and food (6.7 percent). Further analyses revealed fatal anaphylaxis due to medications, food and unspecified allergens was significantly associated with African American race and older age; and fatal anaphylaxis rates due to venom was more common in white, older men.

Of the 2,458 deaths identified between 1999-2010, 1,446 were from medications. The culprit drugs were not specified in most of the cases (approximately 74 percent). However, among those with an identified culprit drug, nearly half were antibiotics, followed by radiocontrast agents used during diagnostic imaging procedures and chemotherapeutics that are used in treatment of cancer.

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During the years studied, there was a significant increase in fatal drug anaphylaxis, from 0.27 per million in 1999-2001 to 0.51 per million in 2008-2010. The increase in medication-related anaphylaxis deaths likely relates to increased medication and radiocontrast use, enhanced diagnosis and coding changes.

"Anaphylaxis has been dubbed 'the latest allergy epidemic,'" said Dr. Jerschow.

"The U.S. and Australia have some of the highest rates of severe anaphylaxis among developed countries. We hope these results bring increased awareness of the need for a better understanding of anaphylaxis deaths."


In addition to Dr. Jerschow, authors include Moira M. Scaperotti B.S., and Aileen P. McGinn, Ph.D., both at Einstein, and Robert Lin, M.D., M.Sc., at Weill Cornell Medical College. This research was supported in part by the Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health to Albert Einstein College of Medicine (UL1 TR001073). The researchers report no conflicts of interest.

About Montefiore Medical Center

As the University Hospital for Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore is a premier academic medical center nationally renowned for its clinical excellence, scientific discovery and commitment to its community.

About Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University

Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University reports to be one of the nation’s premier centers for research, medical education and clinical investigation. http://



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