Allergy Article in today\'s Toronto Star

Posted on: Fri, 08/27/2004 - 3:16am
Caterina2's picture
Joined: 02/14/2001 - 09:00

Here is an article in the Health section of today's Toronto Star - "Deadly Allergies are on the rise". It also mentions the tragic death of Sabrina Shannon, the 13-year old girl who died from anaphylaxis last October after eating french fries in her school cafeteria.


Deadly allergies are on the rise
Peanuts lead the pack among foodstuffs dangerous to allergic children


One morning when Laurie Harada's son was a toddler, she absent-mindedly tore off a corner of the toast she was eating and gave it to him. Within minutes her son was vomiting. He had diarrhea, stomach cramps and hives. He was also having trouble breathing.

The toast, which was spread with peanut butter, had produced a violent allergic reaction. Her son survived that particular episode but it was the beginning of a lifelong journey during which Harada discovered he could die from eating trace amounts of a number of foods, including nuts, shellfish and soy products.

Reaction to the foods causes air passages to swell shut and a rapid drop in blood pressure, leading to potentially lethal anaphylactic shock.

Today, at age 10, Julian is a happy, healthy kid. "He's careful but not fearful," Harada says. He's also part of a growing phenomenon.

Health Canada estimates some 600,000 Canadians have potentially deadly allergies and the incidence is rising throughout the world. No one knows exactly why, but a number of things are clear:

Even the most careful among those at risk can be caught off guard.

Last year, 13-year-old Sabrina Anne Shannon died after eating french fries in her school's cafeteria. Her death came just two years after she had written a show for CBC Radio about the precautions kids with life-threatening allergies must take.

Next month, Sabrina's family will take part in an Ottawa press conference planned by the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario to raise awareness of the dangers.

Carrying a special EpiPen syringe filled with epinephrine, or adrenalin, as it's commonly known, can counteract anaphylactic shock. But seconds count when it comes to using the syringe. A study led by Dr. Jane Salter of 32 Ontario deaths noted that two people died while running to get epinephrine that was within a 30- to 60-metre radius.

Those who have survived childhood with life-threatening allergies often let down their guard as they age. Too many teenagers and adults forget to renew their syringes before the expiry date or simply forget to keep the syringes with them at all times.

A study this year by Johns Hopkins Children's Center found that while most soaps and household cleaners will remove peanut allergen from hands and surfaces, hand sanitizers, often seen as more convenient than a trip to the sink, fail to do so.

Research into vaccines and other measures to counteract anaphylactic shock is promising but there's still much more work to be done.

Anything from bee stings to medications can evoke lethal allergic reactions but it is food allergies that appear to be growing the most rapidly.

Nuts, sesame seeds, soy products, shellfish, wheat, eggs and dairy products are among the most common culprits, with peanuts leading the pack among dangers to children.

A study of the Toronto district School Board by Anaphylaxis Canada in 2001 showed 90 per cent of schools surveyed had children with nut allergies.

As a director of Anaphylaxis Canada, a leading educational and advocacy group, Laurie Harada is among a growing number of families speaking up. They lobby for better food labelling and manufacturing processes to cut the risk of inadvertent exposure. They also speak out in their communities.

Every year at curriculum night at her son's school, Harada talks about the importance of vigilance and children like Julian "are like ambassadors," spreading the word, she says.

"We know we can't expect the whole world to change just for him," she says. "But awareness is so important."

Why the steady increase in the incidence of food allergies? (The director of Britain's Anaphylaxis Campaign advocacy group estimates the number of children with a potentially fatal allergy to peanuts has tripled in the last decade.)

Researchers have no firm answers but they do have a couple of theories.

In the case of peanuts, the leading cause of deaths attributed to allergies, some think the fact that their availability has been steadily growing may have something to do with it, Harada notes.

Peanut oil is used widely in the manufacture and preparation of many different kinds of foods, for example. That means children are being exposed to peanut allergens much earlier in life, in some cases in the womb and through breast milk.

In addition, the dry-roasting process so popular in North America is thought to enhance the allergy potential for those at risk.

Researchers also think the modern world's drive to sanitize everything may be partly to blame. With less to react to, the immune system may be more likely to over-react to substances that would otherwise be harmless, they suspect.

While the cause may be unknown, the increasing incidence of potentially lethal food allergies is spurring research into antidotes. And Toronto doctors are among world leaders in the field.

At St. Michael's Hospital, Dr Peter Vadas, director of the allergy and clinical immunology division, leads a team of researchers who have identified an important marker in the search to identify those at greatest risk of dying from eating peanuts.

Vadas and his team found that those for whom peanuts are fatal lack a particular enzyme.

"It's an important biochemical marker," says Vadas, who also has had some success testing charcoal as a potential antidote. The team found that drinking activated charcoal, which can be obtained in "a slurry form" from pharmacists, may help counteract the effects of ingesting a peanut product. The charcoal binds to the allergy-causing proteins in peanuts, making them less recognizable to the immune system. "It's definitely encouraging," says Vadas.

In the U.S., three pharmaceutical companies, Tanox, Genentech and Novartis have been testing the effectiveness against peanut allergens of a drug created to treat severe allergic asthma.

Mice bred to be allergic to peanuts have been injected with a derivative of the peanut gene thought to be responsible for allergic reactions. The mice were able to tolerate small doses of peanuts, raising hope for humans who cannot tolerate even trace amounts.

These laboratory experiments are still a long way from being capable of helping humans. For now, the only real treatment is avoidance of contact with anything that could be fatal.

To that end, Harada and other advocates continue to lobby authorities to order improved product labelling so that all potentially fatal allergens are listed, and to get manufacturers to institute peanut-free production lines.

Health Canada is working on improving labels, to make sure allergens are declared in spices and flavourings. Anaphylaxis Canada would also like to make sure that allergens are listed in plain language (for example, casein should be identified as milk) and that labels use type faces and colour combinations that make them easy to read.

In Ontario, a private member's bill, called "an Act to protect anaphylactic students" and spearheaded by Liberal MPP, Dave Levac, a former high school principal, aims to make sure schools have proper safety measures in place. It received unanimous, all-party support when it passed second reading in December last year.

And next month's Ottawa press conference aims to increase awareness and vigilance, in memory of Sabrina Anne Shannon.

The Lorna Kimsa Theatre for Young People, the Toronto drama school that Sabrina attended for a couple of summers, has set up the Sabrina Anne Shannon bursary program in her honour. But the best thing everyone can do to remember Sabrina is to support children with potentially fatal allergies in their efforts to stay safe," says her aunt Kathleen Whelan, who helped produce A Nutty Tale, the show the youngster wrote for CBC Radio.

"People are more aware today of peanut allergies," say Whelan. "But they're not so familiar with the dangers of dairy products, including butter."

"Sabrina was so careful," says her mother, Sara. "If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone."

For more information, check [url=""][/url]
Additional articles by Helen Henderson

Posted on: Fri, 08/27/2004 - 3:32am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Caterina2, thank-you for posting this! [img][/img]
I had received an e-mail from NASK this morning with a link to the article and wanted to post it here but the link didn't work.
I also think this is important, just in time for "back to school".
Best wishes! [img][/img]

Posted on: Fri, 08/27/2004 - 4:54am
MQriley2's picture
Joined: 05/25/2004 - 09:00

I found the website that was made with her news program. It has to be so hard to hear her voice, but such a blessing that she could make a difference before she passed.
I was researching to find out if she used an epi and if so why didn't it work. I have been reading a lot about epi's not working and that is scary to say the least.
[This message has been edited by MQriley2 (edited August 27, 2004).]

Posted on: Fri, 08/27/2004 - 5:02am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

MQRiley, did you find out whether or not the Epi-pen was used? To me, I almost don't want to know because then the whole thing can take on a "blame the victim" side that I don't care to read, if that makes sense.
There was a study posted here (I believe by katiee) that showed a lot of times death occurs because of the running to get the Epi-pen; thereby strengthening arguments for our children to have their Epi-pens on their bodies.
I do know of one story, an adult, where an Epi-pen and Epi-pen Jr. were used and the person still died. However, having said that, it was never published how soon the Epi-pen was administered after the person started having the reaction.
I know that when my son almost died, it took us a good 20 minutes, if not more, before we administered the Epi-pen and then we didn't know that you had to call 911 and get him to the hospital. Twenty minutes later, he started to "go" again and idiots that we were, we didn't have a second Epi-pen, and we drove a good half hour to the nearest hospital.
That's why I continue to post here and although I don't like recounting that story sometimes (sometimes it bothers me immensely to talk about it, other times I can sit here and type it as though it happened to someone else), I just hope that even if ONE person learns from our mistakes, then I've helped someone. I would never want another family to go through what we did, or another PA child to experience what my son did. [img][/img]
Best wishes! [img][/img]

Posted on: Fri, 08/27/2004 - 8:56am
MQriley2's picture
Joined: 05/25/2004 - 09:00

I couldn't find anywhere that said if the epi was used. Like you, I was a little nervous about finding the answer. She was so careful, as was her parents and so aware, the story just surprised me.


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