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Nut Bans in Schools May Be Spurring Hysteria
Date:12/12/2008

Expert says lack of exposure could also perpetuate more allergies among kids,,,,

FRIDAY, Dec. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Peanut and other food allergies are on the rise, with more and more children being diagnosed with potentially life-threatening allergies, and schools are responding by providing nut-free areas.

But, at least one expert wonders if schools are going too far, even creating hysteria over potential nut exposures. What's worse, schools may be perpetuating the problem by limiting exposure to nuts in non-allergic children.

"There's a disproportionate response that may be making things worse. First, by feeding the concern -- if a whole school is declared nut-free, how can you say to children that nuts aren't dangerous? And, second by contributing to sensitization," said Dr. Nicholas Christakis, the author of an editorial in the Dec. 12 issue of the British Medical Journal.

Christakis, an attending physician at Mt. Auburn Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, Boston, pointed to a recent Israeli study. It found that children exposed to peanuts at a young age appeared to have fewer peanut allergies than those who had a later exposure.

Christakis stressed that he's not saying schools shouldn't make allowances for children with severe allergies. "No one is arguing against reasonable accommodations," he said.

But, some schools take those accommodations too far, Christakis believes. For example, he cited the school district where his children attend school. Recently, that district evacuated a bus full of 10-year-olds because a peanut was found on the floor of the bus.

Such a reaction, he said, makes it appear as if the threat from a peanut is much greater than it actually is. Among the 3.3 million Americans who are allergic to nuts, the overall likelihood of a serious reaction is low. Serious allergic reactions to food cause about 2,000 hospitalizations a year, a
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