Allergic reactions to food are a concern for millions of Americans, and now a study suggests there's a potential new player on the immunology front: Some people may be allergic to the antibiotics used to keep pests away from fruits and vegetables.
The study profiles the case of a 10-year-old girl who had a severe allergic reaction after eating blueberry pie. She suffered from asthma, seasonal allergies and allergies to milk and penicillin, but nothing in the pie seemed like a likely culprit.
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The researchers determined that the problem was a blueberry that had been treated with streptomycin, an antibiotic that's used in people to fight off germs and in plants to keep bacteria, fungi and algae at bay.
"As far as we know, this is the first report that links an allergic reaction to fruits treated with antibiotic pesticides," said allergist Dr. Anne Des Roches, the lead author of the study published in the September issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
"Certain European countries ban the use of antibiotics for growing foods, but the United States and Canada still allow them for agricultural purposes," Des Roches said in a journal news release.
New federal rules could reduce the level of antibiotics in food, making this kind of incident less likely.
"This is a very rare allergic reaction," said allergist Dr. James Sublett, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. "Nevertheless, it's something allergists need to be aware of and that emergency room personnel may need to know about in order to help determine where anaphylactic reactions may arise. Anyone who is at risk for a life-threatening allergic reaction should always carry epinephrine. They also need to know how to use their epinephrine in an emergency situation."
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