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Incidents of Peanut Allergy Dropping?

Better Labeling and Heightened Public Awareness Credited With Slashing Accidental Ingestion Rate
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 16, 2006 -- The number of children with peanut allergieswho accidentally eat a food containing the legume has dropped dramatically in Canada in recent years, thanks largely to increased public awareness and better product labeling.

A new study shows that about 14% of Canadian children with peanut allergies were accidentally exposed each year from 2000 to 2005 -- a dramatic drop from the annual incidence rate of 50% reported in a 1989 study, and the 55% rate reported in a recent British study.

Canadian peanut consumption is similar to that in the U.S., researchers say, but many Canadian schools have peanut-safe areas, and the country also has some of the strictest food-labeling regulations in the world.

Peanut allergies are a common type of food allergy, which in severe cases can lead to anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.

Accidental Peanut Exposure Rates Down

In the study, researchers surveyed 252 children diagnosed with peanut allergy at Montreal Children's Hospital from January 2000 to February 2005. The average age of the children was 8.

The surveys asked the children and their caregivers about the children's eating habits and whether they had accidentally been exposed to peanuts in the previous year.

Results appear in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. They show 35 accidental peanut exposures in 29 children, which translates to an annual rate of about 14%, according to the researchers. This is much lower than in previous studies.

Sixteen of the reactions caused by peanut exposure were moderate. Four were severe, the researchers say.

Although most exposures were from peanut ingestion (26), seven were from skin contact, and one was from mucosal contact with a peanut self-inserted into a nostril by a child.

Other findings include:

  • 12 of the reactions were caused by a food overtly containing peanuts.
  • 22 reactions resulted when the peanut content was unknown.
  • Most of the accidental peanut exposures occurred at home (14) or at the home of a friend or relative (12).
  • Only one exposure occurred at school (80% of Montreal schools are peanut-free).

Researchers say that although accidental peanut exposure rates are down, there is still much room for improvement.

They suggest better education of allergic children and their parents on how to avoid peanuts, and enforcement of more stringent food manufacturing and labeling standards.

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