Peanut, shellfish allergies may be protecting people against COVID-19: Study

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While food allergies might be an annoyance and a constant concern to many, a new study finds that peanut and shellfish allergies might actually be protecting many people from contracting COVID-19.

The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that having a food allergy can reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 by around 50 percent.

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However, the researchers also found that having asthma or allergic conditions like eczema and rhinitis did not lower the risk of infection.

The Human Epidemiology and Response to SARS-CoV-2 (HEROS) study also found that children ages 12 years or younger are just as likely to become infected with the virus as teenagers and adults, but 75 percent of infections in children are asymptomatic.

In addition, it also confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 transmission within households with children is high.

“The HEROS study findings underscore the importance of vaccinating children and implementing other public health measures to prevent them from becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2, thus protecting both children and vulnerable members of their household from the virus,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy, and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of NIH.

“Furthermore, the observed association between food allergy and the risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2, as well as between body-mass index and this risk, merit further investigation.”

The HERO study conducted research on over 4,000 people living in 1,400 different households which had at least one person below the age of 21 living there between May 2020 and February 2021. The subjects of the study – around half of whom had self-reported cases of asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis, or a food allergy – were located in 12 different US cities.

One caregiver in each household took nasal swabs from everyone in their home every two weeks. Following this, each participant filled out a weekly survey in which they detailed their health and daily activities. Researchers also collected blood samples periodically and after a family’s first positive COVID-19 result.

After finding that people will food allergies were half as likely to contract the virus, the team also noted that they were allergic to three times as many allergens as people without a food-related allergy problem.

The researchers speculate that type 2 inflammation, a characteristic of allergic conditions, may reduce levels of a protein called the ACE2 receptor on the surface of airway cells, the NIAID said in a statement on Tuesday.

SARS-CoV-2 uses this receptor to enter cells, so its scarcity could limit the virus’s ability to infect them. Differences in risk behaviors among people with food allergy, such as eating out at restaurants less often, also could explain the lower infection risk for this group. However, through biweekly assessments, the study team found that households with food-allergic participants had only slightly lower levels of community exposure than other households.

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