Learn About Serum Sickness

What is the definition of Serum Sickness?

Serum sickness is a reaction that is similar to an allergy. The immune system reacts to medicines that contain proteins used to treat immune conditions. It can also react to antiserum, the liquid part of blood that contains antibodies given to a person to help protect them against germs or poisonous substances.

Save information for later
Sign Up
What are the alternative names for Serum Sickness?

Drug allergy - serum sickness; Allergic reaction - serum sickness; Allergy - serum sickness

What are the causes of Serum Sickness?

Plasma is the clear fluid portion of blood. It does not contain blood cells. But it does contain many proteins, including antibodies, which are formed as part of the immune response to protect against infection.

Antiserum is produced from the plasma of a person or animal that has immunity against an infection or poisonous substance. Antiserum may be used to protect a person who has been exposed to a germ or toxin. For example, you may receive a certain type of antiserum injection:

  • If you have been exposed to tetanus or rabies and have never been vaccinated against these germs. This is called passive immunization.
  • If you have been bitten by a snake that produces a dangerous toxin.

During serum sickness, the immune system falsely identifies a protein in antiserum as a harmful substance (antigen). The result is an immune system response that attacks the antiserum. Immune system elements and the antiserum combine to form immune complexes, which cause the symptoms of serum sickness.

Certain medicines (such as penicillin, cefaclor, and sulfa) can cause a similar reaction.

Injected proteins such as antithymocyte globulin (used to treat organ transplant rejection) and rituximab (used to treat immune disorders and cancers) can cause serum sickness reactions.

Blood products may also cause serum sickness.

What are the symptoms of Serum Sickness?

Unlike other drug allergies, which occur very soon after receiving the medicine, serum sickness develops 7 to 21 days after the first exposure to a medicine. Some people develop symptoms in 1 to 3 days if they have already been exposed to the medicine.

Symptoms of serum sickness can include:

  • Fever
  • General ill feeling
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Joint pain
  • Rash
  • Swollen lymph nodes
Not sure about your diagnosis?
Check Your Symptoms
What are the current treatments for Serum Sickness?

Medicines, such as corticosteroids, applied to the skin may relieve discomfort from itching and a rash.

Antihistamines may shorten the length of the illness and help ease a rash and itching.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may relieve joint pain. Corticosteroids taken by mouth may be prescribed for severe cases.

The medicine that caused the problem should be stopped. Avoid using that medicine or antiserum in the future.

Who are the top Serum Sickness Local Doctors?
Highly rated in

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

New York, NY 

Anas Younes is an Oncologist in New York, New York. Dr. Younes has been practicing medicine for over 39 years and is rated as a Distinguished doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Serum Sickness. He is also highly rated in 26 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, Hodgkin Lymphoma, and B-Cell Lymphoma. He is licensed to treat patients in Texas and New York.

Highly rated in

University Of Aberdeen

Aberdeen, SCT, GB 

Jeremy Sternberg is in Aberdeen, United Kingdom. Sternberg is rated as a Distinguished expert by MediFind in the treatment of Serum Sickness. He is also highly rated in 1 other condition, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Serum Sickness, Splenomegaly, and Chagas Disease.

Learn about our expert tiers
Learn more
Highly rated in

UBMD Internal Medicine - Adult Primary & Specialty Medicine

Buffalo, NY 

R Quigg is a Nephrologist in Buffalo, New York. Dr. Quigg has been practicing medicine for over 41 years and is rated as a Distinguished doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Serum Sickness. He is also highly rated in 6 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Serum Sickness, Hypothermia, Properdin Deficiency, and Glomerulonephritis. He is board certified in Nephrology and licensed to treat patients in New York.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Serum Sickness?

The symptoms usually go away within a few days.

What are the possible complications of Serum Sickness?

If you use the drug or antiserum that caused serum sickness again in the future, your risk of having another similar reaction is high.

Complications include:

  • Inflammation of the blood vessels
  • Swelling of the face, arms, and legs (angioedema)
When should I contact a medical professional for Serum Sickness?

Call your provider if you received medicine or antiserum in the last 4 weeks and have symptoms of serum sickness.

How do I prevent Serum Sickness?

There is no known way to prevent the development of serum sickness.

People who have had serum sickness or drug allergy should avoid future use of the antiserum or drug.

What are the latest Serum Sickness Clinical Trials?
Inpatient Penicillin Allergy Delabeling Pilot Project at University Hospitals-Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio
Match to trials
Find the right clinical trials for you in under a minute
Get started
What are the Latest Advances for Serum Sickness?
First exposure to rituximab is associated to high rate of anti-drug antibodies in systemic lupus erythematosus but not in ANCA-associated vasculitis.
Single-Arm, Multicenter Phase I/II Clinical Trial for the Treatment of Envenomings by Massive Africanized Honey Bee Stings Using the Unique Apilic Antivenom.
Tired of the same old research?
Check Latest Advances
Efficacy and safety of volanesorsen in patients with multifactorial chylomicronaemia (COMPASS): a multicentre, double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, phase 3 trial.
What are our references for Serum Sickness?

Frank MM, Hester CG. Immune complexes and allergic disease. In: Burks AW, Holgate ST, O'Hehir RE, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 37.

Nowak-Wegrzyn A, Sicherer SH. Serum sickness. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 175.