You may have seen the brief news stories this week: A 15-year-old Canadian girl with a severe peanut allergy kissed her boyfriend -- and died.
The New York Post perfectly captured the tabloid pathos. The headline: "Allergy teen's fatal kiss." The lead: "Her allergy to peanuts may have been the kiss of death for a Canadian 15-year-old who died after smooching with her boyfriend, who'd just had peanut butter, authorities said.
"Christina Desforges died last Wednesday in a Quebec hospital, where she was being treated for the allergic reaction to the kiss the weekend before. The fact is that even a trace amount can cause a severe reaction."
A CNN reporter asked: "Could it really have been ... the kiss of death?" (Could it really have been ... a crass cliché worth avoiding?) The network quoted three people -- ages 13, 15 and 20 -- who all have severe peanut allergies and recounted near-death experiences as a result. It quoted a doctor as saying, "I've lost three patients due to anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). They're all teenagers. One was a baked good, one was Chinese food, one was a candy. None of them had epinephrine (antidote) available."
Now, why are so many young North Americans suddenly at risk of death from eating common foods or kissing those who have?
"Food allergy such as peanut allergy is an immune response," explains foodconsumer.org. "It differs from food intolerance which causes discomfort without provoking the immuno-response. What causes peanut allergy remains largely unknown. A study, published in the March 13 issue of New England Journal of Medicine, linked the acquisition of the condition with babies' using skin preparation containing peanut oil. Peanut allergy was also found associated with intake of soy milk or soy formula."
Other possible factors cited in press accounts include more peanut-eating by pregnant and breast-feeding women and earlier peanut consumption by young children. That, it is surmised, could predispose them to severe allergic reactions later.
Maybe. But omitted from the speculation is one other possibility, which explains why peanuts are the subject of this column about autism: There are studies and informed observations suggesting that a rise in peanut allergies -- and other severe allergic and autoimmune reactions in young people, both acute and chronic -- are associated with a rise in childhood vaccinations in the 1990s.
Are you rolling your eyes yet? Please bear with us. Our purpose here is not to propose this as the most plausible hypothesis, but simply to point out -- yet again -- how nutty the discussion of the horrifying rise in childhood medical problems becomes when it does not look squarely at all possibilities.
And vaccines are among those possibilities -- certainly right up there with peanut eating during pregnancy, to say the least. We refer you to this posting on the Web: www.vaccinationnews.com/DailyNews/March2002/Anaphylaxis&Vaccines.htm.
It is a Nov. 6, 2001, letter from Rita Hoffman of Stirling, Ontario, to the Immunization Safety Review Committee of the U.S. Institute of Medicine, part of the prestigious National Academies.
"Re: Epidemic of Children with Anaphylaxis," it begins. "Thank you for the opportunity to submit the following information for your review of the possible association between multiple immunizations in newborns and infants and immune system dysfunction. We are writing in particular about the potentially life threatening allergic response called anaphylaxis."
The letter, which Hoffman wrote on behalf of the group Anaphylaxis Action, sure looks like a serious piece of work to us. It cites one scientific journal study after another, beginning with the Archives of Internal Medicine, which reported in 2001 that "The occurrence of anaphylaxis in the US is not as rare as is generally believed. On the basis of our figures, the problem of anaphylaxis may, in fact, affect 1.21 percent (1.9 million) to 15.04 percent (40.9 million) of the US population."
That's something that should trigger urgent research and -- despite the cluelessness of the press accounts about the 15-year-old's kiss of death -- it has indeed.
Hoffman quotes from a paper in the journal Pediatric Allergy Immunology from 1994 that says that "the role of immunization for the development of allergy merits further study."
A 1997 article in Immunology Today: "Modern vaccinations, fear of germs and obsession with hygiene are depriving the immune system of information input upon which it is dependent. This fails to maintain the correct cytokine balance and fine-tune T-cell regulation, and may lead to increased incidences of allergies and autoimmune diseases."
From the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics in 2000, Effects of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis or tetanus vaccination on allergies and allergy-related respiratory symptoms among children and adolescents in the United States: "The odds of having a history of asthma was twice as great among vaccinated subjects than among unvaccinated subjects. The odds of having any allergy-related respiratory symptom in the past 12 months was 63 percent greater among vaccinated subjects than unvaccinated subjects."
We could go on, but we refer you to Hoffman's excellent summary. Of course, there are countervailing studies and theories that find no such link between immunizations and allergic reactions, anaphylaxis and asthma (not to mention autism). But the point is this is a serious, ongoing debate with immediate, life-and-death consequences.
Too bad the mainstream media doesn't take it seriously. Christina Desforges and her generation deserve better -- and they deserve it now.