The Washington Post

A pioneering approach to prevent peanut allergies in children offers them ongoing protection after the youngsters stop eating the peanut protein that immunized them against the potentially fatal reaction, according to a study released Friday.

Research last year showed that exposing infants to bits of peanut butter – rather than keeping peanuts away from them – offered initial protection for most children at high risk of developing an allergy. The new study, conducted by the same group of scientists and again published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the safeguard lasted for a year after the children stopped consuming the small amounts of protein.

And in a second report released Friday, the researchers tried to replicate those results with other foods known to produce allergies in children, including milk, eggs, fish, wheat and sesame. They again produced evidence that the approach might work, but because so few families stuck to the difficult feeding regimen, the outcome cannot be considered conclusive.

Yet collectively, the studies offer more evidence that some medical authorities’ long-established infant feeding recommendations may need to be revised. The World Health Organization, for example, recommends only breastfeeding for the first six months of life; following that guideline would keep a parent from introducing foods that might stave off allergies. In the United States, federal guidelines on the diagnosis and management of food allergies already are being reconsidered because of the results announced last year.

The research team, led by Gideon Lack, head of the Department of Pediatric Allergy at King’s College London, plans to continue following the hundreds of children to determine how durable the protection may be. Extended research is needed to determine how long the protection might continue, he said.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped to sponsor the research, said proof of ongoing protection is valuable given most people’s difficulty in avoiding exposure to peanuts and peanut butter. He said that while researchers can’t assume that the protection will last beyond a year until that is proven, the result is a good indication of long-lasting safety.

“A year is a pretty good time,” Fauci said.