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MCW researchers: Food allergies, 'stomach flu' link found

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A Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) research team announced recently they found a possible link between food allergies and the common gastrointestinal distress-causing norovirus, and published their findings in The Open Immunology Journal.

MCW associate professor of pediatrics, medicine, microbiology and molecular genetics and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin pediatric allergist Mitchell H. Grayson, MD explained the signficance of the study:

“Food allergies are a dangerous, costly health issue not only in the United States, but worldwide. This study provides additional support for the idea that allergic disease may be related to an antiviral immune response, and further studies are planned to continue exploring the exact series of events that connect the antiviral response with allergic diseases.”

For this set of experiments, the research team fed egg protein to mice infected with norovirus, then examined the mice for signs of immunoglobulin E, or IgE, an immune response against the and precursor to an allergic reaction.

Previously, the MCW team demonstrated an IgE response to an inhaled protein in a study of mice infected with respiratory infections, suggesting children's early respiratory infections could activate asthma and other allergic diseases later in childhood.

A child exhibiting an IgE response while infected with a gastrointestinal virus might be at greater risk for developing an allergy to the food later, Grayson's team concluded.

To put their findings into everyday context, the researchers cited information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating: the prevalence of food allergies in children increased 18 percent from 1997 to 2007; up to six million children in the United States have food allergies; and about every three minutes a child visits an emergency room suffering from an allergic reaction to food.

Founded in 1893, the Medical College of Wisconsin is the largest medical research center in Greater Milwaukee, and the only private medical school and health sciences graduate school in Wisconsin.

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