Dealing with peanut allergy
By Tom Phelan - Staff Writer
Enfield - posted Thu., Feb. 24, 2011
A sign on the hallway door at an Enfield preschool reads: “Here Wee Grow Preschool is a nut-free environment.”
That’s not a commentary on the mental state of the teachers and students. It’s a notice to anyone who visits that they should not bring any food containing nuts onto the premises. It is also an assurance to parents of the school’s students that they should not have to worry about having an allergic reaction while they are in school.
Like many other private schools and some commercial entities, Here Wee Grow has made the decision to just steer clear of the opportunity for a potentially life-threatening reaction. Other students, past and present, have had to live with allergies. At the same time, their state licensing requires that all staff members be trained in the use of the EpiPen® to inoculate a student with the allergic reaction antidote.
Barbara Vaillancourt is now a teaching assistant at the preschool where her son, Luke, was once a student. Since infancy, Luke and his family have dealt with his allergies, among them an allergy to peanuts. When it was discovered that he was allergic to milk, testing revealed that peanuts would also produce a serious allergic reaction. His mother had to carry an EpiPen® and Benadryl wherever Luke went. By the time Luke was ready to make the transition from preschool to kindergarten, his mother said he was good at the “very adult thing he has to do.”
“It’s tricky for a child,” Vaillancourt said. “I have to be an advocate for my child.” Most public schools are not “nut free.” However, the nurse at Luke’s elementary school has his allergy information, and she is trained to use the EpiPen®, if he or any other similarly allergic students have a need.
For the Vaillancourts and countless other families, living with peanut allergy has become a fact of life. Like many allergy patients, eating even a trace amount of peanut may result in a dangerous allergic reaction called anaphylaxis that can be fatal. They read labels, monitor the food served to them, carry the antidote, and they understand what their level of sensitivity is.
Dr. Jeffrey Factor, an allergist and the Medical Director of the New England Food Allergy Treatment Center in West Hartford, said that more than one percent of the population now is allergic to peanuts, and that for families of children with such an allergy, “it has become worrisome.” He said that reaction to peanut allergy has become the most common cause of anaphylaxis at hospitals.
The New England Food Allergy Treatment Center has adopted the protocol used for peanut desensitization by institutions such as Duke Medical Center, the University of Arkansas and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “We are providing a unique opportunity for the majority of peanut allergic patients to receive an investigational treatment that has been rooted in previous clinical studies," said Dr. Factor. “The research we are conducting will hopefully result in substantial improvement in the quality of life of many peanut allergic patients."
The center is conducting a clinical study with peanut protein, using a procedure called oral immunotherapy. Enrolled patients are initially exposed to trace amounts of peanut flour, while under the close supervision of physicians and nurses at the center. By gradually consuming increasing quantities of the peanut flour, they anticipate that patients will be building up immunity to peanuts. “Eventually,” Factor explained, “they are able to eat the equivalent of one to three peanuts.”
Factor said the protocol is “not quite the standard of care” for peanut allergy treatment, and it is not reimbursable by health insurance plans. But the success of the programs at Duke and the other institutions show it has “a proven track record” and is a “cutting edge approach.”