Food-anaphylaxis deaths falling despite media headlines

Hospital admissions for food-related anaphylaxis increased three fold from 1998 to 2018 however deaths during the same period more than halved, according to a new study of national data.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) commissioned scientists to identify trends in anaphylaxis which describes the most serious, and sometimes fatal, allergic reactions to food. It said its intention was to counter some of the misinterpretation of data found in media reporting on the issue.

Scientists from Imperial College London found that between 1998 and 2018, 101,891 people were admitted to hospital for anaphylaxis of which 30,700 were recorded as admissions due to a food trigger. This represents a three-fold increase over the 20-year period. Yet, fatalities as a percentage of hospital admissions for food anaphylaxis more than halved during the same period, from 0.7% to 0.3%.

Food-related anaphylaxis has been in the public spotlight following recent high-profile cases including that of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teenager who died when she suffered an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette.

The government has since announced it is making full ingredients labelling on pre-packed foods for direct sale a legal requirement. Foodservice operators have until October to comply.

The FSA said media headlines have helped give the impression that fatalities related to food anaphylaxis are far more common now than ever before when the data shows otherwise.

It said deaths from food-induced anaphylaxis are rare with the highest fatality rates seen in teenagers.

Cow’s milk was identified as the allergen responsible for the most fatal reactions followed by peanuts and tree nuts. A total of 66 deaths were reported in children from 1998-2018: 26% were triggered by cow’s milk, 14% by peanuts and 9% by tree nuts. The FSA said this could be because cow’s milk is protein-rich, widely present in the western diet, and can be present in many forms meaning there’s an increased chance of exposure that could cause severe allergic reactions.

The research forms part of the FSA’s work towards achieving its ambition for the UK to be the best place in the world to be a food hypersensitive consumer.

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