Yet another teenager, this one in Sacramento, recently has died due to a peanut allergy. The 13-year old ate a treat at a Sacramento summer camp, not knowing the treat contained peanut butter hidden among other ingredients, according to a July 30, 2013 Sacramento Bee article by Sam Stanton, Anita Creamer and Bill Lindelof, “Years of caution about peanut allergy fails to save teen who died at Camp Sacramento.”
Most people don’t realize that when you are allergic to a food you never know how severe the reaction will be the next time you unknowingly eat it hidden in some food and often undetectable to the taste until it’s too late and the allergen is absorbed through the pores in the mouth such as under the tongue or in other parts of the mouth.
Check out the site, “Peanut Allergies.” If your preschool child is in daycare, for example, are you sure the person preparing snacks knows whether peanut butter is in any type of treat served to the children or even in an open jar in the house where the smell can waft to the allergic child? And what if you have a teenager allergic to peanuts who goes to camp and grabs a snack because it looks safe, but a hidden ingredient might be peanut butter?
Children with allergies may react one way when a food is eaten and the next time think the reaction may be moderate, but it could be fatal that next time. And the frightening realization is that the throat may not begin to swell and cut off breathing until 20 minutes later or longer.
In the Sacramento case, the 13-year old girl knew how careful she needed to be about her peanut allergy, that it could be deadly. But what happened in Sacramento at a summer camp where her parents were present still couldn’t save her. The child died on July 29, 2013 as the result of an apparent allergic response just by merely biting into a treat at a Sacramento summer camp on the final night, with her parents present in the camp.
Her dad is a physician, a urologist and did all that is humanly possible to save her. The child had been at a local camp along Highway 50 in the Eldorado National Forest with her parents, two sisters and brother, all of Carmichael, a Sacramento County suburb. For further details and interviews, check out the Sacramento Bee article, “Years of caution about peanut allergy fails to save teen who died at Camp Sacramento.”
The parents tasted the treat and detected the taste of peanuts. The girl was given a dose of Benadryl to offset an allergic reaction, the Sacramento Bee article explained. Even though the child was carefully monitored, within 20 minutes, the child vomited and began to have trouble breathing.
The next treatment was an injection with an EpiPen, a device used to deliver epinephrine that is commonly carried by individuals with serious allergies. The EpiPen is supposed to stop a severe allergic reaction, but it had no impact. After using three EpiPens within a few minutes the girl stopped breathing. Even when paramedics were called in to perform CPR and when she was rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital, she was pronounced dead. The County Sheriffs Office reported that the cause of death was severe laryngeal edema – a swelling in the throat – as a result of a presumed allergic reaction, according to the Sacramento Bee article details.
The point of this Sacramento case history is that the girl’s death focuses all readers on the dangers of food allergies. If you had even a mild allergic reaction to a food once, you don’t know whether the next allergic reaction to that food (or medicine) will be fatal, usually due to swelling of the throat so that you can’t breathe or other allergic symptoms such as shortness of breath or heart irregularities. Even though the parents responded to the incident in textbook fashion and did all the right procedures, you never know what type of reaction you’ll have from a particular food, medicine, or skin care product, hair tint or anything else.
You need to be careful what you eat because even when you have no history of a severe reaction, the next time you could have a severe reaction and die from it. You could start off with hives or a tingling sensation around the mouth one time and the next time die from eating the same ingredient in food that most other people eat all the time.
Food allergies are common
Some schools post a “no nuts” sign outside classrooms. Other schools have separate eating tables and EpiPens in places where the child or teacher can quickly get to them. That’s why it’s important to show a child how to use an EpiPen and to know where it’s kept all the time when in school, at home, or anywhere else.
Children need to be told not to bring peanut butter to school. And other kids are allergic to eggs. The issue is that kids without allergies who play pranks on public places last year smeared peanut butter on school walls. Luckily, the principal phoned students with peanut allergies and told them to stay home. Unfortunately one student who showed up at school suffered an allergic reaction.
How many children have food allergies?
The CDC estimates that 3 million American children under the age of 18 – four of every 10 children – had food allergies in 2007, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s not always allergy to peanuts. The allergy could be to eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts, milk, or any other common or rare food, herb, beverage, or spice.
What puzzles scientists is what’s the cause of why the food allergies are rising? For example, the CDC reports that in the decade ending in 2007, the prevalence of food allergies for kids under age 18 had risen 18 percent. The question is why? Could it be air, water, or soil pollution, processing, GMOs, or a variety of additives in the type of food eaten? Is it about genetic changes in the foods or in the children?
The eight most common foods to which children are allergic
The most common foods to which kids are allergic are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, shellfish and fish. Egg allergies are the most common. Peanut allergies are the most severe, leading to death in various cases, usually due to the throat swelling so severely that breathing is cut off, and the person eventually stops breathing and dies, usually before a hospital can put a breathing tube down the patient’s throat or find other ways to reduce the swelling. Also dangerous are allergies to shell fish.
You can have an allergy one time experienced as mild tingling around the mouth or die from anaphylactic shock another time from exposure to the food, even if you don’t eat it, if it’s just present in the room somewhere. The problem for scientists is to find out why in previous generations there wasn’t so severe reactions to food, but in this generation there are more allergies to food that lead to death or severe shock reactions. What has changed in this generation that has made food allergies so much more severe and frequently more deadly?
Not everyone outgrows food allergies. Only 20 percent of kids with peanut allergies ever outgrow the allergy. The result of food allergies is that more than 200,000 hospital visits each year occur. You can check out the statistics with FARE – Food Allergy Research & Education. According to a July 30, 2013 news release, “National Restaurant Association Partners with Food Allergy Research & Education on New Allergen Awareness Program,” the National Restaurant Association announced the launch of ServSafe Allergens Online Course, a new online training course from the creators of the highly regarded ServSafe food safety program designed to help restaurants address food allergens. The education tool was developed in partnership with Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), the nation’s leading food allergy nonprofit organization.
“The National Restaurant Association has been working diligently over the years to responsibly address the issue of food safety in restaurants, including food allergens,” explained William Weichelt, Director of ServSafe for the National Restaurant Association in the news release. “We are excited to partner with FARE on ServSafe Allergens to educate our restaurants and their employees, helping our members accommodate their guests’ food allergies or other dietary requirements.”
Weichelt added, “As always, we strongly encourage guests to talk to restaurant staff about their food allergies, and discuss concerns and alternatives to make their dining experience safe and enjoyable.”
“Food allergies are a potentially life-threatening disease affecting up to 15 million Americans,” said John L. Lehr, CEO of FARE, according to the news release. “We are proud to partner with the National Restaurant Association to launch this critical training program that will help restaurant personnel better understand the needs and safety precautions required when serving guests with food allergies. Ultimately, this program will help ensure a safer, more enjoyable dining experience for individuals and families who are managing food allergies.”
The ServSafe Allergens course is designed to help both front-of-the-house staff and back-of-the-house operations better understand how to accommodate the growing number of guests with food allergies.
The course is part of the Association’s ServSafe Program of comprehensive education materials created to develop a strong, skilled industry workforce. Through the ServSafe Food Safety program, the National Restaurant Association is the leading source of food safety training and certification for restaurant and foodservice industry professionals for nearly 40 years. To date, more than 5 million ServSafe certifications have been issued.
Visit FoodAllergens.com to learn more about the program, and watch a video overview. For resources on dining out with food allergies, visit FARE’s website.
Peanut allergy and other food allergies can last through a person’s lifetime. It’s difficult to avoid the scent of peanuts in public places such as planes, trains, buses, at school, in cafeterias, restaurants, and at camps. Most people unknowingly prepare food or sweet treats using peanut butter mixed with other ingredients such as cereals to make party or camp treats for kids without realizing there may be a few children present allergic to peanuts, which can result in one of the most severe allergic reactions leading to fatality if the child even tastes or smells peanut butter.
The only way to avoid exposure to peanuts or peanut butter or products containing even traces of it is to find out whether foods containing it or made in a factory that processes nuts will be served at the camp, on the plane, or in schools, or if kids will bring their own food from home containing peanut butter or any type of nuts. Children’s parties can be frightening for those with food allergies.
The most important point to remember if you’re mildly allergic to any given food is that your last reaction is not an indication of your next reaction that can be fatal. If you have not had a severe reaction to any given food or other substance, the next time, you can have a severe reaction, and you also can die from that reaction.
UC Davis studies peanut allergy in America
Locally in Sacramento and Davis, scientists from the University of California, Davis study peanut allergy in America. See the UC Davis article, Meeting the challenge of severe food allergies at school.
“About one percent of people in the United States have peanut or tree nut allergies, and studies suggest peanut allergy is rising in incidence,” says Suzanne Teuber, an allergist and professor of medicine in the UC Davis Health System, in the UC Davis news article. “For some, the reactions are truly life-threatening. Peanuts and tree nuts together account for about 90 percent of fatal reactions reported to foods in the U.S. The most commonly implicated tree nuts are walnuts, pecans, cashews and brazil nuts, and many people react to more than one. We are also seeing more sesame seed allergy in recent years.”
100 people a year killed by peanut allergy in the USA
Each year, food allergies kill about 100 people, many of whom are children or teens who unknowingly eat a food with an ingredient to which they are allergic, such as peanuts. Even trace amounts of such foods have caused severe allergic reactions. Such reactions also can be triggered in extremely allergic people through exposure to airborne particles of food — a possibility that gave rise to recent controversies over serving peanuts on commercial aircraft.
Back in the year 2000, UC Davis researchers did a research study to learn more about food allergies and publicize the need for emergency treatment with adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, in case of a severe reaction. Now another study, this new one from Princeton University, has come out focusing on peanut allergies in the USA. the new study emphasizes the emergence of public concern about peanut allergy.
Emergency of national public concern focusing on peanut allergy
Princeton University researcher Miranda Waggoner has traced the emergence of public concern about the peanut allergy, noting the concurrent rise in interest from the medical community, the media and advocacy groups. The path of the peanut from a snack staple to the object of bans at schools, day care centers and beyond offers important insights into how and why a rare, life-threatening food allergy can prompt far-reaching societal change, according to a Princeton University researcher.
Before 1980, peanut allergies were rarely mentioned in medical literature or the media, said Miranda Waggoner, a postdoctoral researcher at the Office of Population Research in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Her article on the subject, “Parsing the peanut panic: The social life of a contested food allergy epidemic,” was published recently in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
Starting around 1990, articles in medical journals began discussing the seriousness of peanut allergies, Waggoner said. At the same time, advocacy groups were emerging to raise awareness of the issue. By the mid-1990s, newspapers were printing articles with headlines such as “Nut Allergy Girl’s Terror; Girl Almost Dies from Peanut Allergy.”
The 21st century brought descriptions of peanut allergies — in medical journals and the media — as an epidemic
For those with a peanut allergy, ingesting the legume can lead to anaphylactic shock and, if untreated, death. But the allergy is quite rare and it isn’t clear whether it is becoming more common, Waggoner said.
The increased focus on peanut allergies in the medical community, the media and society in general combined to push changes like peanut bans in schools, Waggoner said.
“All of this was happening at about the same time to produce this big societal problem that is based on what is a small problem in terms of the population affected,” Waggoner explains in the July 25, 2013 news release, Princeton release: Princeton researcher digs into the contested peanut-allergy epidemic. “One physician has written that the same number of people die each year from peanut allergies as from lightning strikes, yet the perception of peanut allergy risk has invaded the common social spaces we all inhabit — airlines, day cares and schools.”
In 2002, Massachusetts became the first state to enact guidelines for the management of food allergies in schools, calling for “peanut-free” tables in the lunchroom under some circumstances. Many schools and day care centers have banned peanuts, and some baseball parks now offer peanut-free zones.
“This was part of a broader concern about food risks, changing perceptions of food production, as well as changes in the way we think about child risk,” Waggoner says in the news release. “If you ask adults about peanut allergies when they were in school, most of them will say it wasn’t an issue. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a staple, healthy snack. It’s the classic American kid snack. “The fact that this sort of mundane food is under attack is really a potent moment for us as a society.”
Several factors make it difficult to assess the prevalence of peanut allergies or whether the problem is becoming more common, Waggoner says in the news release. Before the 1990s, little data were collected on peanut allergies. And peanut allergy numbers are generally based on self-reporting, which leaves them open to interpretation and influence by increased media attention.
“There’s definitely increased awareness about it,” Waggoner explains in the news release. “There’s more medical research being done. There’s more medical awareness, but what is contested is the prevalence, because it is based on self-reporting. We don’t have a good sense of long-term change over time.”
One percent of USA population has reported a peanut allergy
Experts now say about 1 percent of the American population has a reported peanut allergy, Waggoner says in the news release. Another unknown is the cause of peanut allergies, Waggoner says in the news release, adding that researchers are using genetic and molecular testing in the search for a cause.
Peter Conrad, a medical sociologist at Brandeis University who is an expert on the medicalization of society, said Waggoner’s research offers important insights into the evolution of peanut allergies as a public problem.
The medicalization of society
“This paper helps us understand how a relatively rare disorder, peanut allergies, has become seen as a public risk and even as a childhood epidemic,” Conrad explains in the news release. “While the individual risk is high, the risk on a population level is small.
“Sometimes the public’s response to a disorder may significantly outpace the actual public health risk potential. Papers like this help us understand how the sociological nature of the disorder may well shape the public response more than its medical and epidemiological nature.”
Along with continuing medical research into the causes and prevalence of peanut allergies, Waggoner says that another important area for future research is why it is the peanut allergy has sparked this level of public interest and resulting changes in society.
Why the peanut allergy has sparked public interest resulting in changes in society
“While eight foods account for over 90 percent of food allergy reactions, including milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat, the peanut allergy has arguably received the largest share of medical and social attention,” Waggoner writes in the paper.
Among the possible explanations: the severity of allergic reactions to peanuts and the harmful potential of such a mundane food, Waggoner explains in the news release. Waggoner’s research has been supported in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. For more information, see the journal Social Science & Medicine.