Teen Food Allergy Deaths: Lessons from Tragedy

in Food Allergy
Published: July 2, 2010

UPDATE: Desforges Death Ruled Asthma

The coroner examining the death of Christina Desforges released his report in May, finding that the 15-year-old died from a severe asthma attack. Dr. Michel Miron rejected the theory that the teenager might have died from an anaphylactic reaction to a kiss with her boyfriend who had eaten peanut butter nine hours earlier.

Christina, of Saguenay Quebec, was asthmatic and had serious allergies to peanuts and nuts. Miron found it “highly improbable” that peanut was a factor, saying that too many hours had passed before the kissing took place for peanut to have remained in the boy’s saliva.

In his report, the coroner described Christina as a young woman who made little effort to control her asthma. On November 19, 2005, she had spent the day at the home of Yan Desormeaux, her boyfriend, and friends joined them for the evening. At about 3 a.m., Christina and Yan headed to bed.

Within minutes, she was struggling to breathe and used her asthma inhaler. But the coroner noted that “it didn’t seem to have any effect.” She collapsed and her boyfriend called 911.

Miron said the girl’s death raises public health issues. He stressed that asthma is “often downplayed by patients and their friends,” but that it causes 150 deaths a year in Quebec alone. He recommended a provincial asthma awareness campaign, as well as a food allergy education program for Quebec teenagers. Although Miron said Christina’s death was not attributable to her food allergies, he found it distressing that none of her friends were even aware of her allergies.

Dr. Susan Waserman, the president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, agrees that teenage awareness remains a major issue, and she reminds that the highest number of food allergy deaths are among teenagers at risk of both anaphylaxis and asthma. As asthma is also a key manifestation of anaphylaxis, she said that “it is always hard to completely rule out food allergy in these cases – acute asthma is a prominent feature of acute anaphylaxis.”

Waserman is concerned that patients who have the two conditions sometimes just medicate for asthma. She hopes that more education for food-allergic asthmatics will follow the coroner’s report. “And one of the things they need to learn is, if an inhaler isn’t slowing symptoms – give the epinephrine. Give it at the same time.”�

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First published in Allergic Living magazine.
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