Serum sickness

Serum sickness describes a delayed immune system response, either to certain kinds of medications or to antiserum (given after a person has been bitten by a snake or to counter exposure to rabies, for example). Serum is the clear fluid part of blood. Serum sickness is similar to an allergy, in that the body mistakenly identifies a protein from the antiserum or medication as harmful and activates the immune system to fight it off. Today, the most common cause of serum sickness is the antibiotic penicillin.

Serum sickness will usually develop within 7 to 10 days after initial exposure, but sometimes it can take as long as 3 weeks. If you are exposed again to the substance, serum sickness tends to develop faster (within 1 to 4 days), and only a very small amount of the substance may cause an intense response.

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Review Date: 3/24/2015  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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