FAAN responds to "The fear about peanut allergies is nuts"

Published February 9, 2009 11:10PM (EST)

To The Editors of Salon.com:

In a recent posting, "The fear about peanut allergies is nuts," Rahul K. Parikh, M.D, voiced his opinion that food allergy statistics are not valid, in particular those provided by FAAN. We would like to correct some of Dr. Parikh's errors, misconceptions and mis-statements.

Dr. Parikh would have his readers believe that the data is not based on science, but hearsay. FAAN is a science-based organization. The statistics reported by FAAN are from peer-reviewed studies published in leading medical journals. The studies used survey instruments set up to weed out non-allergy reports. The limitations to the studies have been noted in the published articles.

Most recently, government agencies such as the CDC and FDA have published their own independent studies and the data estimating the incidence of emergency room visits was published by a group at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

The FDA study by Ross MP, et al titled, "Analysis of food-allergic and anaphylactic events in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System" (NEISS) reviewed data from 34 EDs from Aug 1 to Sep 30, 2003. Extrapolation of NEISS data predicts 20,821 hospital ED visits, 2,333 visits for anaphylaxis, and 520 hospitalizations caused by food allergy in the U.S. during the 2-month period studied.

The recent CDC Study (Branum AM, Lukacs, SL, "Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations." National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Data Brief) reported an increase in food allergy among children and a 3.5-fold increase in approximately 9,500 hospital discharges related to food allergy among children under 18 years of age during the period 2004 – 2006 compared to the period 1998 - 2000.

Regarding the estimated incidence of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting, the Decker WW, et al. study titled, "The etiology and incidence of anaphylaxis in Rochester, Minnesota: a report from the Rochester Epidemiology Project" (REP) published in the Journal of Allergy Clin Immunology is based on the medical records of nearly all the residents of Olmsted County. It is one of the few places in the world which can provide data for the occurrence and natural progression of disease over the past 50 years. More than 900 publications have been produced from the REP. Extrapolating from that data, the investigators estimate 150,000 reactions per year for anaphylaxis and 50,000 for food allergy, representing a significant increase. The Rochester Epidemiology Project is funded by the National Institutes of Health. The data from which statistics for food allergy are derived is based on well accepted standard scientific methods of reporting epidemiology.

Dr. Parikh states that "Several states have passed laws mandating public schools be 'peanut-free zones.'" We are unaware of any states at all that have passed such a law.

FAAN clearly acknowledges that there are children who have been diagnosed by blood test results alone. Our organization tries to help families find physicians who will be able to accurately diagnose their child's food allergies in order to avoid unnecessarily restricting a child's diet. In 2007, FAAN co-sponsored a meeting with the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) to assess the need for developing national guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of food allergies, in order to help physicians who are not trained in allergy learn to evaluate and eventually treat food allergy. The NIAID is continuing this important work.

Until there is a cure, education is the key. FAAN's goal has always been and will continue to be to educate, advocate, and support research to help individual families cope with their child's food allergies in order to keep children safe. We will continue to follow and report on the peer-reviewed published scientific literature.

FAAN Medical Advisory Board Members

Hugh Sampson, MD, Director

Allan Bock, MD

Wesley Burks, MD

Clifton Furukawa, MD

John James, MD

Stacie Jones , MD

Todd A. Mahr, MD

James Rosen, MD

Scott Sicherer, MD

F. Estelle R. Simons, MD

Steve Taylor, PhD.

Robert Wood, MD

John Yunginger, MD

Robert Zeiger, MD

By FAAN Medical Advisory Board Members

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Environment Food Allergy Science