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'Stomach flu' may be linked to food allergies

Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin have found a possible link between norovirus, a virus that causes "stomach flu" in humans, and food allergies. The findings are published in The Open Immunology Journal, Volume 4, 2011.

Mitchell H. Grayson, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, medicine, microbiology and molecular genetics at the Medical College, and a pediatric allergist practicing at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, is the corresponding author of the paper.

The researchers took mice infected with norovirus and fed them egg protein. They then examined the mice for signs of an immunoglobulin E, or IgE, response against the food protein; an IgE response is what leads to an allergic reaction. The team of researchers has previously shown an IgE response to an inhaled protein during a respiratory infection in another a mouse model, which suggests early respiratory infections in children could lead to allergic diseases like asthma later in childhood. Likewise, an IgE response to a gastrointestinal virus could signify a likelihood of developing a food allergy after the viral infection.

Six million children in the United States have food allergies, and the Centers for Disease Control reports an 18 percent increase in the prevalence of food allergies from 1997 to 2007. Every three minutes, a food allergy sends a child to the emergency room.

"Food allergies are a dangerous, costly health issue not only in the United States, but worldwide," said Dr. Grayson. "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."

Other authors of the paper include Xiuxu Chen, Ph.D.; Daniel Leach, Desire A. Hunter, Daniel Sanfelippo, Erika J. Buell and Sarah J. Zemple, Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Department of Pediatrics, Medical College of Wisconsin.

About the Medical College of Wisconsin

The Medical College of Wisconsin is the state's only private medical school and health sciences graduate school. Founded in 1893, it is dedicated to leadership and excellence in education, patient care, research and service. Approximately 1,200 students are enrolled in the Medical College's medical school and graduate school programs. A major national research center, it is the largest research institution in the Milwaukee metro area and second largest in Wisconsin. In FY 2009 -10, faculty received approximately $161 million in external support for research, teaching, training and related purposes, of which $148 million is for research. This total includes highly competitive research and training awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Annually, College faculty direct or collaborate on more than 2,000 research studies, including clinical trials. Additionally, more than 1,250 physicians provide care in virtually every specialty of medicine for more than 400,000 patients annually.

Maureen Mack | EurekAlert!
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