THE cure for life-threatening peanut allergies announced recently by Australian researchers is a potential miracle for the Harrison family.
Eight-year-old William Harrison, who attends Goonellabah's Blue Hills College, has possibly one of the most extreme allergy cases on record.
He's not only dangerously allergic to peanuts and crustaceans, but dairy, eggs, wheat, bananas, mangos and kiwifruit.
William is forced to miss out on so many types of food, he relies on a special supplement formula to get enough protein and vitamins into his body to fuel his growth.
The allergies affect almost every aspect of the family's life.
"We don't eat out," mum Ann-Marie said.
- It's the second most common food allergy in children and is on the increase.
- It occurs in about 1 in 50 children and 1 in 200 adults.
- Peanut is the most likely food to cause anaphylaxis - the most extreme allergic reaction characterised by difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and ultimately death.
- It has been estimated that there is one death for every 200 episodes of anaphylaxis.
- It's been calculated that highly sensitised individuals can react to as little as 1/2000th of a single peanut.
- Serious reactions can also occur from skin contact, eye contact and inhalation of food particles.
SOURCES: South Western Sydney Local Health District & this NSW Government fact sheet
A few years ago the family had to end their tradition of visiting family during the festive season.
"It's a dangerous time for us as everywhere you go there's nuts on the table," Mrs Harrison said.
Sleepovers and play dates at friends' houses are mostly ruled-out, because parents are not confident in administering the life-saving epi-pen William carries at all times in case of an allergic reaction.
When they do visit friends' homes Mrs Harrison must scan their pantries and kitchens to ensure they don't pose a threat.
Even products that have been processed alongside peanuts can spark a reaction. Most shampoos are banned thanks to nut-based products in their ingredients.
Dealing with allergies
- Faced with a growing number of kids with severe allergies, local schools such as Blue Hills College have had to introduce safety measures including:
- All children with epi-pens are required to wear their medical bags at all times.
- Staff are trained in how to administer epi-pens with annual refresher courses.
- Other students cannot be restricted from bringing peanut products but are asked not to.
- Students who are eating peanut foods are asked to go to a special area.
"It can be overwhelming at times - to think that your child only has to have a tiny peanut and if could be life-threatening," Mrs Harrison said.
So when the family heard about the successful Melbourne trial for a peanut allergy "cure" their hearts soared.
At the Murdoch Children's Institute, researchers administered a strain of probiotics alongside increasing doses of peanut flour and managed to build the peanut tolerance of 80% of the 30 children in the trail.
The method could potentially be used to eliminate all allergies.
"It would be life-changing for us," Anne-Marie said. "Just to be able not have to carry epi-pens all the time."