Childhood allergy rates have hit “epidemic proportions” in Australia, prompting health experts to broaden their efforts to combat the mysterious condition.
Canberra-based allergy expert Dr Ray Mullins said 15,000 Australian children born this year would develop a potentially fatal food allergy before they reached school age.
Food allergies – particularly allergies to peanuts and tree nuts – were a growing problem with no known cause, and they now affected three to six per cent of children under the age of three.
“This translates to 65,000 little kids with food allergy before they reach school age, (including) 25,000 now with peanut or tree nut allergies”, Dr Mullins said today.
“On current birth rates, another 15,000 kids born every year will develop food allergy in the first few years of life.
“It’s a public health problem of epidemic proportions.”
Dr Mullins, president of the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), points to a WA-based study which found about 80 per cent of schools had at least one student at risk of a severe allergic reaction to food – anaphylaxis.
One in seven of the schools reported a student had suffered an anaphylactic reaction – requiring in emergency injection with adrenaline – in the past 12 months.
Dr Mullins said there were “lots of theories” about what was driving the nation’s rising incidence of food allergy in children.
“Lots of work is being done to find reasons for the increase, and ways to intervene, they are still on the remote horizon,” he said.
“In the meantime we have an immediate need to teach people to look after these kids, to care for them appropriately.”
ASCIA on Wednesday launched an online food allergy training course targeted at childcare workers, teachers and other people who care for children.
The free course covers the basics of food allergy, its major triggers, how to identify someone suffering anaphylaxis and its first-response treatment including how to use an adrenaline injector such as an EpiPen.
Dr Mullins said the unique resource was designed to use in remote areas where face-to-face training was not possible, or as a refresher for staff.
It was a necessary move “given the size of the problem and the increasing numbers of kids that we are seeing day by day,” he said.
“To our knowledge this is the first time anything like this has been made available anywhere in the world – It is a world first,” Dr Mullins also said.
The free course can be found online at www.allergy.org.au/etraining.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 March 2010, http://www.smh.com.au/national/child-allergy-rates-at-epidemic-proportions-20100309-pus2.html