2 Jan 2016

Claim allergy research being ignored

2:21 pm on 2 January 2016

The Ministry of Health is being accused of ignoring new research suggesting that avoiding allergy triggers is not the answer.

Peanut allergy affects between 1-3 percent of children in Western Europe, the US, and Australia.

Peanut allergy affects between 1-3 percent of children in Western Europe, the US, and Australia. Photo: 123RF

But the ministry said while it was aware of the research, it did not think the findings were significant.

It's estimated that one in 10 children have a food allergy at 12 months of age.

The research, published by King's College in London, studied 640 children with eczema, egg allergy or both.

It found that those who were given trace elements of peanuts every day had a 3 percent chance of developing a full-blown allergy, whereas those that had avoided peanuts completely had a 17 percent chance of developing a full-blown allergy.

Total avoidance may not be best approach

Allergy NZ chief executive Mark Dixon said from that they had interpreted that because of the significant difference between those two ratios, it showed that total avoidance may not be the answer.

He said for the trial they used snacks from Israel, which were a bit like cheezels, but lightly coated with peanut dust. They added water, made a paste for the infants and gave them a teaspoon of that once a day.

"It was very, very low amounts of peanut, not enough to cause a reaction, but enough to expose their immune system to peanuts," he said.

Mr Dixon said the research was significant because it flew in the face of what has been the Ministry of Health's policy for the last 15 years.

"The specialists who went to the conference where the research was published for the first time, came back very excited, because they realised it was a significant piece of research that showed that the river was actually running the other way."

"We know that the US, Australia, France, most first world countries have acted on the significance of this research because of how it was done, where it was done and the size of the sample size and the results themselves were compelling enough for the Health Ministry's in those country's to review their position," Mr Dixon said.

Health Ministry information for general audience

The ministry's chief advisor child and youth health Pat Tuohy said it followed research with interest and kept up to date with advice being published by health authorities in the United Kingdom and Australia.

"We are not aware of any Health Ministry which has yet made changes to their public advice on this issue as a result of this research.

"The Ministry of Health is aware of the research around prevention of peanut allergy, but does not consider that this new evidence applies as a whole of population level at this stage, as it focusses exclusively on children at high risk of allergy," he said.

And Dr Tuohy said the information on the ministry's website is intended for a general audience.

"If a child has a significant allergy, we would expect that they would be under the care of a paediatrician or a paediatric allergist who would assist them with the management of the condition."

But Mr Dixon said they would like to have a conversation with the ministry.

"It warrants further investigation, it doesn't mean a conversion to a new policy straight away. They (the specialists) wrote to the Ministry of Health, we wrote to the Ministry of Health and none of us have had any response back," he said.

Mr Dixon said they had not even received an acknowledgement to their letters, which were sent in May.

"It indicates to us that this is either a blind spot for the Ministry of Health, or they really don't know what to do," he said.

"We'd like them to talk to us, talk to specialists in New Zealand, review the research, put some heads together and see if the policy needs to be revised."