Dr Factor: Peanut allergies tough nut to crack; Hartford Business Journal; 2012

Peanut allergies tough nut to crack | Treatment Center Helps Patients with Life-Threatening Condition
February 7, 2011, June 1, 2012, by Becky Bergman


An experimental therapy used at the New England Food Allergy Treatment Center in West Hartford is helping to improve the quality of life for people allergic to peanuts.

The procedure, called oral immunotherapy, exposes patients to increasing amounts of peanut protein over a six-month period until they can eat the equivalent to one to three peanuts without having a negative reaction.

The West Hartford treatment center is the only clinical facility outside of a major medical network or academic environment in the U.S. to offer oral immunotherapy for peanut allergies.

The West Hartford treatment center is also the only private practice nationally that is devoted exclusively to patients with peanut allergies, according to Dr. Jeffrey Factor.

Factor, who models his treatments after protocols developed and used at Duke University, said his desensitization program is safe and effective.

So far, 30 patients, including 12-year-old Jack Zeligson, have enrolled in the center’s desensitization program since it started in November.

Zeligson, who lives in Windsor, said he looks forward to being able to go to parties and special events without worrying about carrying medication, like an epi-pen.

Factor expects more people to sign up this year as the word gets out about the center’s procedures.

Patients ranging from 5 years to 21 years old come for treatment from across Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, said Factor.

The center’s proximity to Hartford allows Factor to visit peanut allergy patients one-on-one and continue his pediatric practice without traveling long distances.

“It was all about logistics,” said Factor. “It was a natural choice for me to open the center in West Hartford. I can focus on my private practice and still see my allergy patients. It’s important to me to be involved as much as I can.”

Factor, the director of the New England Food Allergy Treatment Center and an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine, said his goal for the oral immunotherapy procedures is to reduce anxiety for patients like Zeligson.

“We want to give patients peace of mind and help them to not live in constant fear they could be exposed,” said Factor.

Factor said his procedure does not cure patients of their peanut allergies. Instead, it helps build their tolerance to the allergen in case of accidental exposure or cross-contamination.

The idea behind the treatment is to expose patients to small amounts of peanuts over time to desensitize them to the allergen and reduce the risk of life-threatening reactions. Most insurance companies won’t cover the $3,000 cost because it’s considered an experimental therapy, said Factor.

Under the supervision of a doctor, patients receive 6 milligrams of peanut flour, or about 0.006 of a peanut, mixed in with other foods during their first visit. The center has all the medications prepared in case a patient has a bad reaction to a dose, said Factor.

“Our patients come in for about six hours on the first day and receive incremental increases of peanut protein,” said Factor. “We monitor them the entire time they’re here to make sure they don’t have a reaction.”

Patients continue the same dose at home daily and return every two weeks for increased amounts and adjustments, said Factor. Treatments usually last about 20 to 24 weeks, with periodic appointments and follow-ups for up to three years.

Peanut allergies affect about one percent of the population, or 3 million people, in the U.S., killing an estimated 150 people each year, according to researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Other common food allergies, including milk, eggs, wheat and shellfish, affect an estimated 12 million Americans.

Food allergies occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks a protein and causes the body to trigger a sudden chemical release. Reactions can be fatal and include hives, rashes, swelling, severe trouble breathing, nausea, wheezing and loss of consciousness.

The most severe reaction, anaphylactic shock, is the potentially fatal drop in blood pressure.

While there are no cures for food allergies, medications like epinephrine, can control symptoms after a reaction, said Factor. Strict avoidance of the allergy-causing food is the only way to prevent a reaction.

Food allergies are on the rise and reactions are becoming more severe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that children experience more than 300,000 ambulatory care visits per year related to food allergies.

Many children will outgrow their allergies and even consume the foods that once caused life-threatening reactions, said Factor.

While there is very little information about the long-term effects of the oral immunotherapy, studies at Duke University show patients have experienced positive results, said Factor.

The Food and Drug Administration currently does not regulate or approve of oral immunotherapy for peanut allergies.

Becky Bergman is a freelance writer and mother of a child with a peanut allergy.
WEBSITE: http://www.NEFoodAllergy.org
CONTACT: 860-986-6099

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