Anaphylaxis, Vaccines, Peanut Allergy: Their Shared History

A fascinating and often disturbing look at the rise of peanut allergy incidence in Western society is available in Heather Fraser’s book “The History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic.”

In 12 years (1997 to 2009), the recorded incidence of peanut allergies rose from 416,000 to 4,500,000. In Fraser’s mind this qualifies peanut allergy as an epidemic. Few will argue with that.

While it is each reader’s privilege to draw their own conclusions from this carefully referenced book, it does fuel debate over the role of vaccines in the rapid rise of peanut allergy. However, this debate is necessary.

Though the risk of deadly diseases might have outweighed the risks of early vaccines, maybe today the risks posed by vaccines are undermining their usefulness.

Fundamental Fact

A fact that may be surprising to many, and one that ties together the many threads of this book, has to do with the history of anaphylaxis.

About 100 years ago, anaphylactic reactions to food were discovered to occur only when animals were first sensitized to a specific food protein, by injecting it into them. Then, subsequent doses - even small ones - could cause sometimes fatal anaphylactic reactions.

Early 20th century researchers Richard Otto and Nicholas Arthus learned that anaphylactic responses could be created to nearly any protein (e.g. milk, egg, peanut, diphtheria)—by first injecting it.

With this concept in mind, the book’s author takes readers on an eye-widening journey through the history of vaccination, and vaccination responses, culminating in an explosion of peanut allergy during the past two decades.

Threads of History

Here are some historical teasers from “The History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic” to wet your curiosity about the book’s contents.

  1. During the 1800s, the hypodermic needle invention made vaccines safer to give, and patented ingredients were added to vaccines increasing their shelf life including mercury based antifungals and oil-based adjuvants. An adjuvant makes the body more sensitive to the vaccine so less vaccine is needed. Peanut is an excellent adjuvant.
  2. Many individuals, including up to half of vaccinated children, experienced what was called “serum sickness” after receiving a second dose of the early vaccines. Symptoms were rash, diarrhea, joint pain, trouble breathing, low blood pressure, and fever—symptoms similar to that caused by food allergies.
  3. A rise in cottonseed allergies in the U.S. occurred during the 1930s and 1940s. It was never associated with the use, during that period, of cottonseed oil as a vaccine ingredient.
  4. Penicillin was given a longer shelf life in 1948 by adding aluminum monosterate suspended in peanut oil. Peanut oil is home grown, inexpensive, and a good adjuvant. The oil was considered safe because it was refined, though some research indicated that refined peanut oil contained protein residue.
  5. As lawsuits related to vaccine damage grew, government stepped in to support the pharmaceutical industry. In 1988, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program required litigants to first prove their case to a federal court prior to suing a drug company for damages—effectively protecting pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits 95 percent of the time.
  6. The increase in allergies during the 1980s and 90s was never associated (at least not publicly) with the law protecting drug companies from litigation. Plus, the increase of allergy incidence created a lucrative new market for pharmaceutical and food companies (e.g., allergy-pens, peanut free foods).
  7. In the mid-1990s, the combining of Hib B (meningitis vaccine) with four other vaccines into one injection was implemented, and there was a significant simultaneous increase of peanut allergy in children.

History seems to reveal a perfect storm of disease, discovery, survival, missed associations, and big business that you may or may not conclude created a peanut allergy epidemic.

Learn More

Older adults may be stunned to learn that the number of recommended vaccines for a child during their first 18 months is now 29. The first thought that number brought to this author’s mind was, “Yipes.” Some initial vaccine doses are injected just a few hours post birth.

“The History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic” is available as a book or ebook at peanutallergyepidemic.com.

“With the pairing of the hypodermic needles and vaccines at the close of the 19th century, allergy and anaphylaxis made their explosive entry into the the western world,” writes Heather Fraser. “Epidemic allergy to penicillin reminiscent of the ‘days of serum sickness’ emerged with its mass application following WWII. And with it came peanut allergy.”

Source: Foods Matter
Photo credit: Apotek Hjertat / flickr creative commons

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