Watching What You Eat

In case you hadn’t noticed, the world did not come to an end on May 21st.  Most of us, so we’re told, were not eaten by zombies. However, we did learn of one 6-year-old boy who nearly lost his life because of something someone else ate.

No, we’re not making this up.  In fact, this story comes from the highly respected New England Journal of Medicine, no less. The article reveals that the boy suffered a severe allergic reaction following a blood transfusion from people that had consumed peanuts in the hours before donating their blood.

Dr. Johannes Jacobs, one of the study coauthors, described how three of the five blood donors in this case reported eating peanuts on the evening before they gave blood. It had been a Sunday evening, the night of a big soccer game, and the three donors had been snacking on peanuts as they watched TV.

The boy who received the nut-tainted blood was being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  During a platelet transfusion he experienced an anaphylactic reaction in which he developed a rash, angioedema, hypotension, and difficult breathing.  Fortunately doctors recognized his symptoms and treated him with epinephrine (adrenaline) and he recovered within 30 minutes.

The patient’s mother stated that her son had had a similar reaction after eating peanuts at the age of 1 year. Since that time, peanuts had been excluded from his diet.

The authors of the report say the boy experienced an allergic reaction because peanuts contain a protein known as Ara h2, which is extremely resistant to digestion and can stay in the blood for up to 24 hours. While such a scenario had been presented as a theoretical possibility in the past, this is the first clinical report of this phenomenon.

Speaking exclusively to Word on Health, Dan A. Waxman MD, President of America’s Blood Centers said “Donor screening measures are quite effective in terms of detecting infectious agents and donor questionnaires tell us if donors need to be excluded because of medicines they are taking such as aspirin or antibiotics.  But, when it comes to what they’ve eaten, we really don’t ask”.

According to the latest Food Allergy Guidelines,  peanut allergies are known to affect about somewhere between 0.6 and 6% of the population.

While the researchers involved with this study are not recommending that blood donors avoid all foods known to be associated with systemic allergic reactions, they caution that more research must be done to determine the level of risk.

In the meantime, SRxA’s Word on Health suggests it may be time to adapt the phrase “Think before you drink, before you drive” to “Think what you ate before you donate.”

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