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Peanut allergy treatment 'highly effective' in infants under a year, B.C. researchers find

Two in 100 Canadian children have peanut allergies.
Food Allergy Canada reports that about 500,000 Canadian children under 18 years old have food allergies.

Oral immunotherapy can help infants under 12 months old overcome their peanut allergies, researchers from the University of British Columbia found in a recent study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice

The study's senior author Edmond Chan, who is also a clinical professor and head of allergy and immunology in UBC’s department of pediatrics at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, says this treatment is affordable, safe and highly effective for this age group.

In 2019, the researchers found that pre-schoolers could overcome their peanut allergy through oral immunotherapy. But this most recent study proves the younger the child is undergoing the treatment, the better.

“Despite infants showing the best safety, we were still very satisfied with the safety of this treatment for older pre-schoolers. The risk of a severe reaction is much lower than it is for school-age kids,” Chan noted in a press release.

“Many of the interventions we use in medicine, such as medications or surgical procedures, carry a small amount of risk that is outweighed by the benefit. If this treatment is performed by well-trained allergists and clinicians then I’m really comfortable with the risk. It’s actually very safe,” he said.

Oral immunotherapy is a treatment where a patient consumes small doses of the allergen to a determined maximum amount. The goal of the protocol is to decrease an infant's sensitivity to the allergen over time, until they can consume it without a dangerous reaction. The study notes that in order for sustained immunity, the child must consume the allergen on a regular basis long term. 

Researchers focused on 69 infants of a larger group of 452 children ages five and younger, who saw a pediatric allergist every two weeks to receive their peanut dose. In between clinic visits, parents continued the consumption at home.

After eight to 11 visits, researchers noted the children built up a "maintenance dose" of 300 milligrams of peanut protein, which is about 1.3 grams of peanuts. Forty-two infants completed this period, in addition to one year of maintenance dosing.

In the final stages of the study, none of the infants had more than a mild reaction compared to 7.7. per cent of the kids between ages one and five who completed the protocol.

The study notes that before oral immunotherapy began, infants had a lesser risk than toddlers and pre-schoolers. 

And since peanut allergy affects two in 100 Canadian children, the research suggests that oral immunotherapy can be a great alternative to eliminating allergens from one's diet.