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Serum sickness
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 T80.6
ICD-9 999.5
DiseasesDB 11970
eMedicine med/2105
MeSH D012713

Serum sickness is a reaction to proteins in antiserum derived from an animal source. It is a type of hypersensitivity, specifically immune complex hypersensitivity (type III). The term serum sickness–like reaction (SSLR) is occasionally used to refer to similar illnesses that arise from the introduction of certain non-protein substances.[1] It was first characterized by Clemens von Pirquet and Béla Schick in 1906.[2]



Serum sickness can be developed as a result of exposure to antibodies derived from animals. These serums are generally administered in order to prevent or treat an infection or envenomation. When the antiserum is given, the human immune system can mistake the proteins present for harmful antigens. The body produces antibodies, which combine with these proteins to form immune complexes. These complexes can cause more reactions, and cause the symptoms detailed below. Serum sickness can also be caused by several drugs, notably penicillin based medicines. This results in hypocomplementemia, a low C3 level in serum.


Symptoms can take as long as fourteen days after exposure to appear, and may include signs and symptoms commonly associated with allergic reactions or infections, such as rashes, itching, joint pain (arthralgia), fever, and swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy). Other signs include decreased blood pressure (hypotension) or even shock and an enlarged spleen, glomerulonephritis and proteinuria. While it may mimic an allergic reaction, it is different from true anaphylaxis, since the symptoms are not instantaneous.


Symptoms will generally disappear on their own, although corticosteroids may be prescribed in the most severe forms. Antihistamine may also be used.

Use of plasmapheresis has also been described.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Brucculeri M, Charlton M, Serur D (2006). "Serum sickness-like reaction associated with cefazolin". BMC Clin Pharmacol 6: 3. doi:10.1186/1472-6904-6-3. PMID 16504095. PMC 1397863.  
  2. ^ Jackson R (October 2000). "Serum sickness". J Cutan Med Surg 4 (4): 223–5. PMID 11231202.  
  3. ^ Lundquist AL, Chari RS, Wood JH, et al. (May 2007). "Serum sickness following rabbit antithymocyte-globulin induction in a liver transplant recipient: case report and literature review". Liver Transpl. 13 (5): 647–50. doi:10.1002/lt.21098. PMID 17377915.  

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