Serum Sickness

By | June 10, 2022

Unlike immediate allergic reactions, symptoms of serum sickness are delayed. If necessary, complaints are to be treated medically.

What is serum sickness?

Serum sickness is a delayed hypersensitivity reaction of the body’s own defences. In the context of serum sickness, this immune reaction is primarily directed against foreign proteins (proteins) that enter the organism via the bloodstream (especially with the help of injections or syringes). For hnc in dictionary, please visit

Serum sickness usually occurs only after the body has been repeatedly confronted with a corresponding protein. Rarely, however, the delayed immune reaction can also set in after a single intake of protein. Hypersensitivity reactions in the context of serum sickness are referred to as delayed, because symptoms usually do not appear until about 7-14 days after the organism has been confronted with a protein.

Typical symptoms that can accompany serum sickness include joint pain, rashes, swelling of the lymph nodes, pain in the joints and sudden fever.


Substances that can cause serum sickness in humans are, for example, antisera and vaccine sera. Anti-serum and vaccine sera as a possible cause of serum sickness are processed antibodies (proteins produced by the immune system ) that are obtained from the blood of humans or mammals.

In this context, antisera refers in particular to substances which are used to combat poisoning. Vaccination sera, on the other hand, are used for the purpose of so-called passive vaccination (the administration of special antibodies). If the body reacts to the administration of the corresponding proteins with an undesirable formation of antibodies, serum sickness occurs:

The body’s own immune reactions cause continuous changes in vessels and/or other body structures, which finally manifest themselves after a few days in symptoms typical of the disease.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Serum sickness presents with a variety of symptoms, most of which appear within a few days. Dermatological symptoms can appear earlier after an injection of foreign proteins. The symptoms appear on average between the sixth and eleventh day after the injection. In extreme cases, it can take more than a month for symptoms to develop.

Redness, swelling, itching and swelling of the lymph nodes may occur at the injection site. These symptoms may be accompanied by pain. Fever and general signs of illness usually occur. Joint pain and swollen lymph nodes occur. The circulation can be weakened and a drop in blood pressure follows. In extreme cases, serum sickness can lead to shock.

Inflammation of various parts of the body can also occur. This is how meningitis can develop. Inflammation can also affect the kidneys or the small intestine. Inflammation of the serous membranes can also occur. These encase the internal organs and can be structurally weakened by signs of inflammation and cause pain.

Most symptoms can resolve on their own within a few days. Not all sufferers of serum sickness develop many or dangerous symptoms.

Diagnosis & History

The medical suspicion of an existing serum sickness is often initially based on the characteristic symptoms of an affected person. The treating doctor then receives further diagnostic information as part of a patient consultation (here, for example, the person concerned reports on the onset of corresponding symptoms and his medical history).

The next step is often to check or rule out other diseases that have symptoms similar to those of serum sickness; these primarily include measles and scarlet fever (infectious diseases caused by viruses or bacteria).

The course of serum sickness depends, among other things, on the individual symptoms. In most cases, the symptoms associated with serum sickness subside on their own after a few days. If the organism is not confronted again with the disease-causing sera, there are usually no new symptoms.


Serum sickness usually clears up on its own within 14 days. Complications rarely occur. However, the severity of the immune reaction depends on the type and amount of antigen used. Normally, only fever, swelling of the lymph nodes and itching of the skin occur within 4 to 21 days after contact with the antigen such as serum, insect bite or drug.

In rarer cases, however, complications such as meningitis (meningitis), kidney inflammation (nephritis) or intestinal inflammation (enteritis) are possible. These are not caused by bacteria, but occur as part of immune reactions. Its course depends on the intensity of the immunological processes.

In particularly severe cases, life-threatening circulatory shock can even occur. When circulatory shock occurs, urgent medical attention is required to end the life-threatening condition. During the shock, blood pressure drops very sharply. Cold sweats, cyanosis, and thirst also appear. This leads to an undersupply of the body and especially the brain with oxygen.

Sudden kidney failure can also occur. The main focus in the treatment of shock must be the stabilization of the blood pressure. In the vast majority of cases, however, treatment for serum sickness is not necessary because the symptoms go away on their own. However, in particularly severe cases, immunosuppressants such as corticosteroids must be given.

When should you go to the doctor?

If you experience joint pain, a rash, or symptoms of fever, serum sickness may be the cause. Medical advice is required when the typical signs of illness appear and do not go away on their own. If the blood pressure drops rapidly, it is best to consult the doctor immediately. Shock reactions and swelling of the lymph nodes are also typical warning signs that require clarification. Serum sickness occurs in the context of an immune response. If the symptoms occur after taking certain medicines containing cefaclor, amoxicillin or sulphonamides, the responsible doctor must be informed.

People with an immune deficiency or chronic diseases are among the risk groups. Elderly people, children and pregnant women should also see a doctor if they experience any unusual symptoms of fever or pain that affects well-being. In addition to the family doctor, an internist or an immunologist can be consulted. Other contact persons are the medical emergency service or, in the case of intensive complaints, the emergency doctor. Children are best presented to the pediatrician or taken directly to the nearest hospital.

Treatment & Therapy

Due to the fact that serum sickness symptoms usually resolve on their own, medical treatment is not necessary in many cases.

However, if the corresponding symptoms cause a high level of suffering in the patient and if alternative causes of the symptoms that occur can be ruled out diagnostically, treatment steps can be used that have a soothing effect. Antihistamines or corticosteroids, for example, serve to treat symptoms of this type in the presence of serum sickness. Cortisone, which is one of the corticosteroids, is able, among other things, to influence processes in the immune system and in this way to inhibit the body’s own hypersensitivity reactions in the context of serum sickness.

In the fight against the symptoms of serum sickness, so-called antihistamines weaken the body’s own production and/or the effectiveness of histamines – histamines, in turn, are involved in the development of inflammatory reactions. As a result, antihistamines can slow down inflammatory processes and associated symptoms in the context of serum sickness.

In very severe cases of serum sickness, a so-called plasmapheresis may also be necessary in rare cases. This is an exchange of the blood plasma of an affected patient; the body’s own blood plasma, for example, is replaced by plasma concentrates from healthy plasma donors.


If a person knows which sera cause serum sickness in them, avoiding injecting them will usually prevent the disease from breaking out. Since serum sickness usually only occurs in response to non-species sera, symptoms of the disease can often be prevented, for example, by using only human (specific or human) serum preparations when therapy or vaccination is required.


In everyday life, the person affected should ensure that their immune system is supported on a daily basis. This includes a healthy and balanced diet and sufficient exercise. Good sleep hygiene is also important. The body’s own immune system can be strengthened by eating a diet rich in vitamins while avoiding alcohol and nicotine.

When staying in rooms that are closed, regular ventilation is indicated. Being outdoors is also very important – preferably several hours a day. In this way, the organism can absorb the necessary oxygen. Sporting activities also help to strengthen the body. Avoiding emotional stress and physical overload is essential to recovery.

Everyday life should be optimized in such a way that phases characterized by hectic and physical exertion are reduced to a minimum. A break should be taken at the first sign of impairment. If the person concerned cannot achieve a cure with these measures, it is nevertheless possible for him to strengthen his general well-being and to do a lot to improve his quality of life.

The day and night rhythms have to be adapted to the individual needs of the body. Continuous daily routines are able to alleviate existing complaints. At the first signs of inflammation or deterioration in health, it seems essential to consult a doctor.

You can do that yourself

In everyday life, those affected should make sure that they support their immune system on a daily basis. This can be achieved through a healthy and balanced diet, sufficient exercise and good sleep hygiene. The body’s own defense system is strengthened as soon as the person concerned eats a diet rich in vitamins and at the same time refrains from consuming harmful substances such as alcohol and nicotine.

When staying in closed rooms, these must be aired regularly. Staying outdoors should take place for several hours a day so that the organism can absorb sufficient oxygen. Physical activity also helps to strengthen the body. Emotional stress and physical overload should be avoided. Everyday life should be optimized in such a way that hectic phases or physical exertion are reduced. As soon as there are first signs of impairment, sufficient rest is necessary and a break must be taken.

Although the person concerned cannot heal with self-help measures, they can still improve their general well-being and thus contribute a lot to improving their quality of life. The rhythms of day and night are to be adapted to the needs of the body. Regular daily routines help to alleviate existing symptoms. In the case of the first inflammation or deterioration in health, cooperation with a doctor is essential.

Serum Sickness