Allergists alter treatment due to shortage of anti-venom for insect bites

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Allergy sufferers have it tough during the summer, particularly those allergic to insect stings.

With summer being the peak season for bee, wasp, yellow jacket, and hornet bites, allergists are now being forced to change patient treatment due to a 35 percent shortage in an antidote.

"Approximately 8 million people, that is roughly 3 percent of the people in the Unites States, have allergies to stinging insects," said Dr. Prem Menon with the Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology Clinic in Baton Rouge.

Dr. Menon says patient reactions vary from mild swelling to much more severe reactions. "Development of hives, shortness of breath, or prolapsed d rop in blood pressure."

Those who present severe allergic reactions require venom immunotherapy. The treatment is the process of being injected with extracts from flying insects to be "cured" over the course of five years.

"Before the end of one year, 98 percent of people will be able to tolerate insect stings," said Dr. Menon.

However, helping patients get to that point requires anti-venom and right now, it's on back order.

Only two companies in the world make the anti-venom. One was forced to shut down that part of their operation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), last year due to a contamination. The other has now been forced to increase production to try to make up for the shortfall. Dr. Menon says when he initially heard about the production shortage, he was worried.

"But we always stock up ahead of time, we always have a reserve for these types of crisis. We anticipate and stock up," he said.

Dr. Menon says the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology has recommended that allergists spread out the treatments for some patients with mild symptoms, but those who experience severe reactions shouldn't worry.

"If they're severely allergic, we will not cut down the dose. That's a judgment call based on their previous reactions and their status in build-up phase of venom shots," he said.

Patients with severe reactions to insect stings are encouraged to avoid shirts with flowery prints because they could attract bees. Patients are also encouraged to always wear shoes.

Dr. Menon says his patients are aware of the shortage and have adjusted to their new treatment schedule. The company that stopped anti-venom production is expected to reopen by the end of next year.

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