HOUSTON - There's new hope for three million Americans who suffer from dangerous peanut allergies. A new medical trial just started aimed at reducing the risk.
Peanut allergies are one of the most serious food allergies, causing life-threatening reactions that can kill someone within minutes.
Natalie Giorgi, 13, died in California after biting into a dessert covered with frosting that contained peanut butter. Within 20 minutes, Natalie was vomiting and falling into shock. Her family was vigilant about avoiding peanuts, but they didn't notice the peanut frosting on her treat.
Family friend Kelly Brothers was heartbroken.
"If you could have been at campsite and saw the resources that were there. Helicopters and paramedics and nurses and a doctor, and they're all working on her. And it was one bite of a rice krispie treat. And it killed her. A 13-year-old girl. I mean, how much more serious could it be," Brothers told a California news station.
Peanut allergies affect one percent of the U.S. population. It might not sound like a lot, but doctors say it's a serious problem. One bite of a peanut product can trigger a major reaction.
Dr. Carla M. Davis, Director of the Food Allergy Program at Texas Children's Hospital, explains, "This condition causes hives, skin swelling, coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing."
With the stakes so high, a French company has launched a clinical trial to eliminate the risk, using a concept similar to a nicotine patch.
"A very small amount of peanut protein is placed on top of the skin under a patch every one to two days," said Dr. Davis.
She says the dose of peanut protein is increased slightly over time.
"The goal would be to decrease the allergic reactivity of the patient by placing the peanut protein on the skin," Dr. Davis explained.
Enrollment in the study just wrapped up, but it could take several years to determine if the patch is effective. There are some known side effects to this patch, which include stomach pain and a separate life-threatening allergic reaction.
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