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Wednesday, 17 June, 1998, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Women can 'pass peanut allergy to their children'
Some pregnant women should avoid peanuts
Children can develop peanut allergy in the womb
Breast feeding and pregnant women have been warned that eating peanuts could lead to their children developing a potentially lethal allergy.

The message is targeted at women who either suffer themselves, or whose partners or other children suffer from common conditions including asthma, eczema, hayfever or other allergies.

Chief medical officer Sir Kenneth Calman stressed the advice was precautionary but based on evidence suggesting foetuses and infants exposed to peanuts were more at risk of developing allergies to them.

A rising number of children are thought to suffer from peanut allergy, known as anaphylaxis, which can trigger difficulty in breathing, unconsciousness and even death.

Sir Kenneth said: "For the overwhelming majority of the public there will be no need to change their eating habits. But this advice will go a long way towards helping prevent the handful of dramatic and tragic deaths we do see each year and will we hope start to limit the growth of peanut allergy in this country.

"It is definitely an instance where `an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'."

One in three women

The advice, which is believed to affect one in three women, is for those conceiving, pregnant or breast feeding to avoid peanuts and foods containing peanut products if they, their partner or any of their children fall into a high risk category.

Sir Kenneth said there was no reason for anyone without a close family history of allergic disease to avoid eating peanuts.

The CMO also advised:

  • Children at risk should avoid food containing peanut products until they are at least three-years-old.

  • No children under five should eat whole peanuts because of the risk of choking.

  • Children who have developed a peanut allergy should avoid nuts and receive proper medical advice on allergic reactions.

It is thought up to one in 200 people are allergic to peanuts and up to seven people a year die from reactions sparked by coming into contact with even minute quantities of the allergen.

However, experts admit the true figures could be much higher.

Better labelling

Babies should be protected
Babies could be at risk
The advice follows publication of a report by the independent government advisory panel, the Committee on Toxicity, which called for more research into the links and also better food labelling to highlight the presence of peanuts.

Experts said highly-refined peanut oils were not thought to pose a threat and could be eaten safely. However "gourmet" oils should be avoided.

Some 80% of peanuts are eaten in the form of whole nuts and peanut butter.

But they are also used to make biscuits, cakes, pastries, desserts, cereals and in oriental cooking.

A leaflet is being sent to GPs containing advice on how to avoid sensitising children to allergies and how to cope if your child does develop one.

Play safe message

David Reading, of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, said: "This is a good play safe message. What we hope is that if this is followed, soon we will start to see the number of people suffering peanut allergies go down."

He said nobody need die from allergies if they avoided the nuts and made sure they carried the right medication, usually adrenalin, to treat any reactions.

The Food and Drink Federation said manufacturers in the UK almost without exception labelled food which contained peanuts.

See also:

21 May 98 | Latest News
Breath of fresh air for asthma sufferers
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