MadSci Network: Immunology

Re: How would streptomycin kill you?

Date: Tue Dec 29 13:20:55 1998
Posted By: Peter Burrows, Faculty, Microbiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Area of science: Immunology
ID: 912986278.Im

We usually think of an immune responses as being a good thing, protecting 
us against the flu, measles or other diseases.  Some immune responses are 
not so beneficial and can cause discomfort or even death.   Allergies 
are in this category and are caused by a special class of antibody called 
IgE.  Allergies are fairly common, maybe the most familiar are the pollen 
allergies such as "hay fever".  The symptoms are relatively mild - 
sneezing, runny nose, red watery eyes.  Other people are allergic to 
certain foods, such as shellfish or peanuts, or to bee venom.  The symptoms 
of food allergies are more severe, vomiting and diarrhea, and an allergic 
response to a bee sting can be fatal.  The bee venom gets in the blood 
circulation and is distributed throughout the body, so there is a body-wide 
allergic reaction.  This is called systemic anaphylaxis (an-ah-fi-lak-sis), 
and the patient can have great difficulty breathing and a dangerous drop in 
blood pressure.  People can also become allergic to antibiotics.  
Streptomycin is one, although penicillin is more common since it is 
prescribed more often.  If the antibiotic is injected, or taken by mouth 
and enough is absorbed into the body, the result can be systemic 
anaphylaxis and death.  Why do some people have allergies and others do 
not?  There are some clues, but the answer is not known and many scientists 
are trying to find out why.

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