Researchers identify genetic link in allergies to common antibiotic

10/13/2020 06:47 PM
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CNA photo Oct. 13, 2020
CNA photo Oct. 13, 2020

Taipei, Oct. 13 (CNA) A research team at Taiwan's Chang Gung Medical Foundation has found that carriers of a certain gene are up to 45 times more likely to suffer severe allergic reactions to sulfonamide antibiotics, which are widely used to control acne and in the topical treatment of burns.

At a press conference on Tuesday, researcher Chen Chun-bing (陳俊賓) said sulfonamide antibiotics -- the most common of which in Taiwan is sold under the trade name Baktar Tablets -- have been used globally for decades, and are taken by an estimated 200,000-300,000 Taiwanese per year.

Sulfonamides are used to treat a range of bacterial infections, including those in the respiratory and digestive systems, in the kidneys, urinary tract and genitals, as well as on the skin, and are also commonly found in eye drops and burn ointments, said Chen, a dermatologist at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Linkou.

However, he said, Baktar Tablets also consistently rank among one of the top causes of drug allergies in Taiwan.

While mild reactions are often limited to an itchy skin rash, more severe cases can develop into Stevens-Johnson syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis and drug rash with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS) syndrome, resulting in potentially fatal complications such as organ failure, he said.

Using newly-developed whole genome sequencing techniques, the research team spent more than five years exploring the cause of such allergies.

It found that carriers of the gene HLA-B*13:01, who account for around 12 percent of the Taiwanese population, are up to 45 times more likely to suffer severe allergic reactions to sulfonamide antibiotics, Chen said.

Among the cases of severe reactions that researchers studied, 85 percent occurred in HLA-B*13:01 carriers, he added.

Another researcher, Chung Wen-hung (鐘文宏), related the cases of two recent Chang Gung patients who developed life-threatening symptoms after taking Baktar Tablets to treat acne and a urinary tract infection, respectively.

In the future, doctors could use genetic screening to identify people with a high risk of suffering an allergic reaction and prescribe them other types of drugs, he said.

The team published its research in the September issue of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, one of the two official journals of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan and Matthew Mazzetta)

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