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 18 November 2017

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News

Severe and fatal allergic reactions to food are rare in children

Fears that the rates of severe or fatal allergic reactions to food are increasing dramatically are unfounded, finds a national 10-year study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

News image

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Such reactions are rare in the UK, but children who have asthma are at greater risk, the findings show.

The research team examined national death statistics for children up to the age of 15 years, from 1990 to 1998.

They also analyzed monthly reports generated by the British Paediatric Surveillance System (BPSU) from 1998 to 2000. This collects data from all UK consultant pediatricians, almost 95% of whom participate.

The data showed that over the past 10 years, 8 children died from an allergic reaction to food.

Milk was responsible for 4 of the deaths.

No child under 13 died from peanut allergy.

One child with a mixed food allergic reaction died from an overdose of epinephrine, which is used to treat it.

The UK population of children up to the age of 16 is 13 million, which gives a rate of 0.006 deaths for every 100,000 children, say the authors.

Between 1998 and 2000 there were 6 near-deaths (none of which was caused by peanut), and 49 severe reactions (10 of which were caused by peanut).

Mixed food and cashew nuts accounted for 16.

0.006 deaths for every 100,000 children from food allergy.
Archives of Disease in Childhood
This gives a rate of 0.2 near-deaths and 0.19 severe reactions for every 100,000 children.

Coexisting asthma featured in 3 of the deaths, 5 of the near-deaths, and over half of the severe reactions.

The authors calculate that if 5% of the population of children in the UK have a food allergy, the risk of that child dying from his or her allergy would be 1 in 800,000 a year.

They conclude, "The finding of so few deaths in such a large population should reassure parents and doctors that the risk of death is small."

This is particularly important for children under the age of 10, they say, in whom the risk was even smaller, and many of whom grow out of their allergic responses.

Nevertheless, a second study warns that schools are poorly informed about nut allergy or what to do in the event of a severe allergic reaction in a pupil.

A survey of 83 randomly selected schools in South-West England, showed that 54% had at least one child who was known to be allergic.

However, only a third of the children had access to treatment at school.

Around a third of schools with an allergic child were unable to name the signs of either a mild or severe allergic reaction to nuts.

More than 4 out of 10 either had no staff suitably trained in the use of appropriate treatment, or did not respond to the question.

Less than half of these schools gave information about nut allergy to dinner supervisors.

Arch Dis Child 2002; 86: 236-9
25 March 2002

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