nut allergy hysteria

Who would have thought that a threat to children would be exaggerated by parents, teachers, and the media? “Not I,” he said sarcastically…

BBC News – Warning of nut allergy ‘hysteria’

Measures to protect children with nut allergies are becoming increasingly absurd and hysterical, say experts.

A peanut on the floor of a US school bus recently led to evacuation and decontamination for fear it might have affected the 10-year-old passengers.

Professor Nicolas Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School, told the BMJ there was “a gross over-reaction to the magnitude of the threat” posed by food allergies, and particularly nut allergies.

In the US, serious allergic reactions to foods cause just 2,000 of more than 30 million hospitalisations a year and comparatively few deaths – 150 a year from all food allergies combined.

Professor Christakis said the issue was not whether nut allergies existed or whether they could occasionally be serious. Nor was the issue whether reasonable preventative steps should be made for the few children who had documented serious allergies, he argued.

“The issue is what accounts for the extreme responses to nut allergies.”

He said these responses were extreme and had many of the hallmarks of mass psychogenic illness (MPI), previously known as epidemic hysteria.

Often seen occurring in small towns, schools and other institutions, outbreaks of MPI involve healthy people in a flow of anxiety, most often triggered by a fear of contamination.

Being around individuals who are anxious heightens others’ anxiety, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle which can spiral out of control.

(via Bruce Scheier), who links to Virginia Tech and Thai Chili Sauce as other examples of MPI).

posted at 11:00 am on Tuesday, January 20, 2009 in Current Events, Links | Comments (2)

2 Comments

  1. Jeff K says:

    Not to slight the BBC, but there are a raft of things going on in British newspapers right now that seem very harmful and alarmist, mostly dealing with financial matters. Look around for “Britain bankruptcy”, “punish shareholders”, “end immigration”, “end public health-care”, “Nationalise all banks” (that 2nd last one is out of context, please be sure to read the source, er, “material”).

  2. chk says:

    British newspapers are more alarmist than most, ‘tis true. But I’ve been seeing this level of irrational fear of nuts (and other things) around me and my kids for years, so I’ve started adding it to my blog. :)

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.