Food allergies landing more children in hospital, but there may soon be a fix

There’s been a steep rise in Australian children needing hospital treatment for life-threatening allergic reactions, or anaphylaxis. Now ground-breaking research may soon see a vaccine for babies to stop allergies ever developing.

Hospital admissions for children suffering from potentially life-threatening allergies jumped 50 per cent, between 2005 and 2012, according to a joint University of Canberra and Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

Dr Raymond Mullins, from the University of Canberra, says that while the highest rates were in children under the age of five, there was a marked increase for older children.

“For… children aged five to 14 years, there was a 110 per cent increase (more than doubling) in rates over this period, much greater than for other age groups. Now one out of every 500 hospital admissions in this age group are to treat anaphylaxis. What was most interesting was that while the rate of increase is steady in most groups, we saw an acceleration in the rate of increase in this age group.”

The researchers indicate that food allergies will continue to create a huge strain on Australia’s health system.

“The food allergy generation was born over a decade ago. We are now seeing food allergy and anaphylaxis turn into a chronic condition that for many individuals will not disappear, with a possible eventual flow on effect to rates of fatal food allergic reactions which are most common in these age groups.”

New research

But it appears, new hope may be on the horizon. A vaccine used to protect against tuberculosis could hold the key to reducing the risk of food allergies in children, with Australian infants taking part in the ground-breaking trial.

Once routinely administered as part of immunisation programs, the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine was stopped in Australia in the 1980s, due to the virtual eradication of TB. Now, Melbourne researchers are investigating whether its use in newborns could help reduce the incidence of food allergies.

According to the Medical Journal of Australia, our nation now boasts the highest documented prevalence of childhood food allergy in the world. There are several theories to explain the increase, including changes in the timing of food introduction.

Researchers from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The University of Melbourne and Mercy Hospital for Women are conducting a study of 1400 newborns, to trial whether using the BCG vaccine at birth will reduce allergy and infection during the first year of life.

Murdoch Childrens Professor Nigel Curtis has previously outlined the benefits the vaccine has on immunity.

“It could be a simple and safe once-off preventative measure to reduce the chance of children suffering infections and allergies in later life.””

“If giving the BCG vaccine at birth is found to be effective, it’s reintroduction into the routine Australian immunisation programme could lead to a reduction in allergic disorders in the population, and would result in a significant increase in quality of life for children and their families.”

(via MCRI, Medical Journal of Australia, Scimex)

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