Peanut allergy breakthrough: cure or killer?

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Allergies on the rise

“It appears food allergies are dramatically increasing and pretty fast rates, exponential rates,” said Dr. Rafael Firszt, a University of Utah Allergist.

Thousands of families in Utah find themselves facing a potentially life threatening condition.

“If it’s severe, some of the fatal reactions happen within minutes,” Firszt said.

Why are more and more kids dealing with allergies?

"Currently the most popular theory is the hygiene hypothesis,” Firszt said.

Put simply, we are too clean.  Hand sanitizers, anti-bacterial soaps and over-use of antibiotics are sterilizing our lives.

“You never know what the reaction is going to be,” said Tom from his living room in Holladay.

His 6-year-old daughter Caroline is allergic to tree nuts, peanuts and shellfish. Twice, Caroline has been brought to the emergency room for allergic reactions.

“Our goal every day is to check everything she eats and avoid anything she could be allergic too,” said Caroline’s mom, Lisa.

Foods that are in question, birthday cakes, crackers and cookies, are often deemed too high a risk.

“It’s really hard to understand what these kids go through, they get excluded so often,” Lisa said.

Caroline goes to Saint Vincent Catholic School.  At lunch, she sits at a special ‘nut free’ table for kids with food allergies.

"Food allergies are becoming a bigger issue,” said Sarah Lambert, the Assistant Principal at St. Vincent.

The Food Allergy Research and Education Foundation estimates one in 13 kids have a food allergy.

Is there a cure for kids like Caroline?

The potential cure or killer

Peanut Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) is a food allergy treatment. In essence, it involves giving kids tiny amounts of peanut protein, slowly upping the daily dosage until they can eat a peanut without having a reaction.

“Showing very good and very promising results but you need to caution that with a lot of serious adverse events that have happened during those studies,” said Dr. Firszt of OIT.

The therapy is currently in a phase three FDA study.  Results are expected in 2018.

"We don't want to pre-empt the FDA because we might actually put these kids in harm’s way without actually knowing what's going on," Firszt said.

Not everyone is waiting.

“What we offer is hope.  And hope to those patients that they can actually live a more normal life,” said Dr. Douglas Jones, an allergist at Rocky Mountain Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

The clinic has offices in Layton and Murray and claims 250 success stories, with patients who have graduated OIT, able to eat foods they had been allergic to with no reaction.

“I think we are very cutting edge, I think in the future you`re going to see this become more common,” Jones said.

Melissa and Dustin Hurd have five kids, three with food allergies. Their youngest, Dallin, just became the last to graduate OIT at the clinic.

“You don’t realize until you’ve been in the shoes of someone that has food allergies what they have to go through,” Melissa said.

She points to fears limiting her kid’s activities. Scout trips canceled or postponed because of concerns an allergic reaction could start far from help. For the kids in the family not allergic to any foods, the impact has been missed dinners out, a house devoid of some of the foods they love and interruptions to their activities when a sibling gets sick.

With tears in her eyes, Melissa calls completing OIT a life changer.

“Just the quality, the time together as a family doing some of these activities that a lot of other families get to do,” she said.

The choice for families

Stories like the Hurd family’s, are wonderful cases of OIT success. They pull on the emotions of families working day and night to avoid the foods that can cause a reaction.

“It's not without risks.  You’re actively giving that child what they’re allergic to,” Firszt said.

In the large scale studies so far, Firszt said, 10 to 20 percent of the patients have needed epinephrine to stop a bad reaction.

"In some patients it can be a cure,” Jones said.

Conflicting advice leaves many parents wading through uncertainty, trying to figure out what is best for their child.

“How many kids have done it?  Have you had reactions?  Are the kids safe?  Are they graduating through the program and finishing?” asks Lisa.

Lisa and Tom are considering OIT for Caroline. The success stories are inspiring, the dire warnings are terrifying.

"One particular doctor had done some studies in this and while they were doing it, they actually, they lost a child,” Tom said.

After long talks and sleepless nights, they make their decision.

“After going to the visit we felt comfortable enough to put her into the program and do it,” Lisa said.

Caroline is taking a daily dose of peanut solution. So far she is responding well. Only time will tell if OIT proves a cure or potential killer.

An expert visits FOX 13

Michelle Fogg, Executive Director for the Utah Food Allergy Network, visited the FOX 13 News Studio Wednesday to discuss food allergies and strategies for managing them. See the video below for Fogg's interview.


Utah Food Allergy Network

Food Allergy Research and Education

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

University of Utah Health Care – Allergy

Rocky Mountain Allergy Asthma Immunology


  • Katie Larson

    This is a terribly irresponsible piece of sensationalistic journalism. OIT is NOT a possible “killer” as describe in this piece. Contrary to what the quoted father says in this piece, NO ONE has ever died from OIT. I am assuming the death he is referring to was during a trial where people were given injections of peanut protein. The child in this particular case had been in the placebo arm of the trial and was accidentally injected with a substantial amount of peanut protein. After that, all trails of a peanut injection were stopped and never resumed again. OIT is ORAL immunotherapy. The kids EAT the doses of peanut, they are not injected like in the study I just referenced. NO ONE has died from ORAL immunotherapy. Also, the products awaiting FDA approval in 2018 are a peanut pill and a peanut patch. Neither will offer full inclusion of the allergen in a person’s diet like the OIT offered by Dr, Jones. Please get your facts straight before you report next time. You need to remove the father’s quote about someone dying in OIT immediately because it is false. Also, it would behoove you to reframe the entire article and remove all references of the word “killer,” since OIT has done no such thing.

    • Tyra Neal

      I came to complain about the sensationalism of this piece but I see Katie Larson has already beat me to it :)

      OIT is saving lives, freeing these kids from real killers, their dangerous allergens. This piece was unprofessionally researched, poorly presented, and irresponsibly

  • Ashlee C

    I’d like you to find the death from OIT that is claimed in the article. After years of research, I’ve never been able to find one instance of a death during OIT. Perhaps this comment is in reference to the death that occurred during a peanut injection trial several years ago? Before you quote a frightening comment like this one, you should be absolutely sure it’s accurate. Instead you’re spreading fear and possibly convincing families to not consider a treatment option that has been safe for hundreds of families. That, Fox News, is a MAJOR problem. Remove the word “killer,” and that quote unless you’ve got the fact to back it up and then this might be a reasonable piece of journalism. You can do better.

  • Amy Billingtin

    This treatment has been nothing short of life changing for my son who was contact reactive to peanuts and suffering severe anxiety from the fear of dying…at age six. Then we found Dr. Jones and moved 600 miles all in the name of saving my son…which he did. Not only from peanuts but himself. Anxiety has been replaced with confidence and I have seen his IGE drop in the 9 months since he graduated. Hardly a “killer” or you wouldn’t have compassionate, involved doctors like Dr. Jones out there offering the treatment. 24 food allergy related deaths have been reported in the last 12 months from people practicing straight avoidance. 0 deaths from OIT in all the years since it began.

  • S Abraham

    I’m sitting in a doctors office right now… Waiting for another hour after my class 6 allergic daughter ate 24 peanuts as part of graduation from oit. She feels nothing related to the peanuts she ate … It was just another food item … One she reacted to – less than 1% of a peanut was what she was able to tolerate about 18 months ago. OIT works! Oit is safe when done properly under the care of a board certified allergist trained to provide the therapy

  • Pam

    My son started OIT for peanuts back in May. This upcoming Monday he will complete his challenge and will graduate from OIT. I believe that this process has saved my sons life. He has become more happy and confident. He no longer thinks about what will happen if he eats a peanut. Dr. Jones and his team have saved my little boy…they have have forever improved his quality of life and we will be forever grateful.

  • Erin Gibbens

    For food allergy families who want to see the truth about OIT join Private Practice OIT and OIT 101 on Facebook. I did just 6 months ago and my son is now free from his life threatening peanut allergy. We were strict avoidance for 11 years and he now eats 5 grams of peanut everyday. He has the freedom to eat whatever he wants, but that’s just the awesome side effect of why we did OIT. We did it out of fear, fear of accidental ingestion and another anaphylactic episode, another ambulance trip to the hospital. You can be careful and accidents still happen, that kind life is very stressful and I am not even going to go to the social exclusion part of the food allergy life. My son will be a freshman in high school next year and I was so concerned about the roll the deadly peanut would play in the next phase of his life that we chose OIT. He has graduated OIT with no side effects he is just a normal kid who enjoys football, basket ball and got to eat at Five Guys for his first time. OIT is NOT a killer, nor is accidental ingestion of peanut any longer.

  • mommymantras

    What Dr. Firtzs shares is garbage, shame on the reporter for doing no fact checking. Not one child has died as a result of OIT, but thousands have been saved from this horrible disease. My own daughter included. She completed OIT 2 years ago and has been maintenance since; her life is so open and safe now, she is able to do and eat anything she wants. Prior to OIT she had three life threatening reactions; that required epinephrine and hospitalization. Our allergist, allergists like Dr. Jones and many other allergists across the country are providing more then hope; they are providing a treatment that works.

  • Jeanette b

    Irresponsible journalism at best. My daughter is an OIT graduate. Her life went from being removed from school and reacting to residue on surfaces to daily doses of the food that once threatened to take her from us. The death you are referencing is not from OIT. It was from a subcutaneous immunotherapy study that ended promptly after said death. Please get your facts straight.

    Thank god for the doctors who choose to give our children life…who embrace science and abandon politics.

  • Tiffany Mullison

    Our little daughter was transported from her school via ambulance 4 times in the last school year after exposure to peanuts. We learned about OIT and moved from Nebraska to Utah to receive this life saving treatment from Dr Jones. The anxiety, exclusion, and bullying she faced daily was horrific to watch as a parent. Dr Jones gave her hope and freedom from her allergy. She completed treatment and now is safe at school and all places peanuts are served. She eats them daily. We would be happy to share her medical history to provide insight on how she completed the treatment and her history of needing EPI, ER visits, and social emotional consequences of this allergy. We are forever grateful to Dr Jones and staff for offering this life saving treatment.

  • Carmela Buker

    I recommend you check your facts before you go and say that a child died during OIT. As a mother of a child currently doing OIT, I did a ton of research and nowhere has that come up. You should be ashamed of yourselves and your journalistic sensationalism, quoting something like that before verifying its veracity. Instead of giving people hope, which is what OIT has done for hundreds and hundreds of families, you are instilling fear and anxiety in the hearts of many who are still on the fence. OIT works!!!

  • Maya

    Your headline is spreading fear and misinformation. NO ONE has died from going through OIT, though PLENTY of people have died by not going through it! If you’re going to claim that someone has lost a child from OIT, you need to back that up with an actual name and reference. If you can’t do that, change your headline and slant your story in a positive way.

  • bob

    Medical science is finally starting to recognize what the conventional wisdom has long known: Your immune system needs to work. If it had nothing to do, it creates jobs for itself. Not just allergies, but autoimmune diseases of all sorts are on the rise.

    I never heard of a farm kid with asthma. I’m sure there are some, but it’s rare. When I was a kid we used to shake the ragweed plants deliberately to watch the clouds of pollen. I’ve never been allergic to anything in my life.

    Suburban kids raised by germophobes have terrible problems with allergies and disease. Let your kids be kids!

  • gailreynoldsfrank

    Cure or Killer? Come on! Let’s issue a correction. You ruin a great story about a treatment for a life-threatening condition by further scaring frightened, anxious parents who could benefit from this? NO DEATHS IN OIT, and to state there was without fact-checking is poor reporting. My daughter is an OIT graduate, and rather than thousands of us sharing your story link we are disgusted. You could have helped so many with this piece.

  • DeAnn Patterson

    Oral immunotherapy is a cutting edge treatment for people with food allergies. You are correct in presenting the facts that there are two different beliefs in the medical profession towards this treatment. I have a thirteen-year-old daughter that has struggled with food allergies for over twelve years now. I am an RN, and have studied food allergies and treatments extensively for many years, with the hope of helping my daughter. There are a few things I would like to point out about this report.
    First, there have been no deaths related to Oral Immunotherapy.
    Second, Bob Evans stated multiple times that “the medical establishment” is not recommending this therapy. WHO is “the medical establishment”??? Some physicians personally do not recommend it, that is true. Others do. There is NO common medical consensus against Oral immunotherapy. It is more a fact that it is not commonly practiced yet, as it requires a HUGE amount of time and effort on the part of the physician. It is not as easy or simple as giving a prescription for an epi-pen and advising the family to avoid their allergenic food.
    Third, you reported that every three minutes a food allergy sends someone to the Emergency Room in the US. It is also correct that a life or death situation is just a bite away. Food is everywhere. For children with food allergies, it is EXTREMELY difficult to avoid their allergens. They are constantly excluded and fearful of something as commonplace as FOOD. It is extremely likely that food allergic children will have reactions from food. No matter how careful they are, reactions happen. LIFE ITSELF is dangerous for people with food allergies. Children with food allergies struggle to fit in. They struggle with isolation. They struggle with exclusion. They struggle with anxiety, as their world is dangerous. You are correct in stating that OIT is not without risk. But, is the risk higher than the act of simply living for those with food allergies? I would say NOT. My daughter has had a particularly difficult journey with Oral Immunotherapy. She has NOT sailed right through, like MOST DO. She has most likely been one of Dr. Jones’ most difficult patients. That being said, it is STILL a life-saving treatment. She can now eat lunch at school without the fear of dying. She can go to a friend’s house. She can go to birthday parties without leaving in an ambulance. She can sit down on a church pew without having a reaction from traces of food left behind. The likelihood of her being one of those emergency room visits that occurs every three minutes is now extremely small, probably non-existent. Reports in the news of children and teens dying from food allergies are becoming commonplace. My daughter will NOT be one of those reports. We have Dr. Jones and Oral Immunotherapy to thank for that. He works tirelessly to ensure that his patients are safe and have immediate access to care. Utah is LUCKY to have a treatment available to its residents. As you reported, he has people from around the world coming to see him. Because he does much, much more than hand you a prescription for epinephrine and tell you good luck in navigating a world filled with food that can kill your child. Utah is fortunate to have the OPTION of this life-saving help.

  • L Allen

    Another worthless, inaccurate, sensationalized ‘news’ story from Fox – the tabloid of television reporting. Did anyone even attempt to fact check this nonsense? Right, of course not – because such reporting would require that actual journalists worked on this piece.

  • Brenda Prestangen

    After a trip to the ER when my son was just 16 months old, and THREE epinephrine doses within three hours while there, my son is now in OIT and Dr. Jones is his OIT allergist. Dr. Jones has been nothing short of a miracle for him. I’m glad for the OIT awareness, but a lot less negativity and more facts from Firszt would have been great to back up his claims. I’ve not heard or read of any deaths from OIT across the country. I would love to know where that “fact” came from. We drive 4 1/2 hours each way from CO every week on our path to peanut freedom. OIT Works and is saving lives. “Potential Killer” is extremely misleading and I’m very disappointed that FOX would put this life saving program in a negative light. The proof is in the OIT graduates, and I, for one, am extremely grateful that we have Dr. Jones and others like him, providing this treatment to our children and that my son will become one of his OIT graduates in four weeks.

  • N. E.

    Unfortunately, it seems the reporter didn’t understand the information he compiled to write this confusing story. Too much bad editing leads viewers to be confused about what is and isn’t safe and to believing OIT has killed people in the past, which isn’t true. Terrible reporting.

  • Kristy

    What terrible reporting! Instead of being responsible and fact-checking before using words like “killer and death” all you cared about was a catchy headline. Your story is false and misleading. THERE HAVE BEEN NO DEATHS FROM ORAL IMMUNOTHERAPY, and I challenge you to prove otherwise. I assume you are referring to the death at National Jewish Hospital in Denver. THAT WAS AN INJECTION STUDY!!!!! It has absolutley nothing to do with OIT. An injection is a shot, Oral Immunotherapy is by mouth, and proven safe and affective time after time!!!! And this Dr. Firszt is obviously under-educated on this subject and not a valid source as his statistics are WAY OFF. Please remove these negative words and scare tactics from this story, and share the positive outcomes. I assure you there are thousands of us who would love to share our “boring” succes stories!!!!!

  • Sandy P

    One line in your article says it all “Conflicting advice leaves many parents wading through uncertainty, trying to figure out what is best for their child.” It’s because of rubbish articles like this without facts that people are unsure of what to do. To date no child has died from OIT. Instead, it has been lifesaving to countless children! Cure or Killer is a misleading, fear-mongering headline designed for sensationalism. While I certainly appreciate OIT in the news to let more people hear of it, unfortunately how many children will never try it because of your false information?

  • A Delmonico

    OIT has KILLED a child???? What absolute, inaccurate nonsense are you reporting??? Filming a story such as this should be filled with HOPE, not lies. When your child is diagnosed with a life threatening food allergy, as their parent you will do everything in your power to keep them safe and alive, day in day out, with every bite of food perfectly inspected. And then, the day that his food allergy tries to win and your baby is lifeless in your arms, gasping, holding on to what life he has left in his body, your feet running as fast as they can thru the ER doors, only to pray that today won’t be the day that your baby is taken from you. He is a fighter, that is what our food allergy son is, a fighter. Four times he fought for his life and he won. And so 7 years after his diagnosis, we found Dr. Douglas Jones, 3000 miles from our tiny island in the middle of the ocean. For the first times since his peanut allergy diagnosis, we saw a small glimpse of HOPE. Oral Immunotherapy and Dr. Jones were going to save my son from the dark, deadly world. The first question I asked Dr.Jones was, “has anyone ever died from doing this?” He told me no, there hasn’t and with the proper protocols and board certified allergists treating you, there are only small risks involved. Small reactions such as hives, red ears, tummy aches. And to date since OIT has been in place, 10 years, there has been no deaths. The death you speak of was in a clinical trial of peanut protein injections. A completely different treatment that is not even in practice anymore. I moved my family from the beautiful island of Hawaii to Layton, Utah for my son to undergo the program for peanut oral immunotherapy. My son graduated the program on August 7, 2014. The day that he describes as “the best day of his life!” What Dr.Jones is offering to families like mine, is a life full of FREEDOM. OIT has small risks but the day to day risks that we took trying to live a “normal” life almost took our son from us. The risk of not doing OIT was far greater than the risk of pursuing OIT with Dr.Jones. My family is forever indebted and grateful for Dr. Jones and his entire staff at Rocky Mountain Allergy. My son LIVES every single day because of him!!!!

  • Amy Becken

    This really is irresponsible journalism! Did you just say that these dedicated and diligent parents are waiting to see if their daughter’s peanut desensitization program will cure her or kill her? ?You have not cited any studies that state that a child has died during oral immunotherapy. Please do a more careful and thorough job of telling this important story, or you are not helping anyone.

  • DaraK

    My daughter recently completed peanut OIT and had no issues thru the process. OIT has been life changing and I believe also life saving. I know of not one OIT death, and this article refers to one, well who was it? where are the details? There aren’t any because it never happened! OIT works my severely allergic daughter is the proof!

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