Peanuts As Child Killers

By Shell Lessen

The mother of six-year-old Nicholas educated a couple of educators recently. And for all we know, she might have saved her son’s life in the process.

Nicholas is allergic to peanuts, which means that the slightest contact with a peanut or any derivative or product containing peanuts can bring on health problems ranging from severe itchiness and a rash to a swollen face and severe breathing difficulties.

Symptoms, which occur within 15 minutes to 2 hours after contact, can also include heavy coughing spells, vomiting and turning blue, along with dizziness, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Some symptoms can become fatal.

To say the least, that’s a heavy load for Nicholas to carry to school along with his backpack every day. A load that was lightened when his mom called her “class” together at Nicholas’ school and made his situation abundantly clear.

In attendance were the principal and Nicholas’ teacher as well as the district nurse and two school nurses—all of whom were extremely understanding and helpful, she said.

Discussion centered on what steps to take under various circumstances if Nicholas should have a reaction at lunch, on the playground or in class; how to inject a dose of life-saving medicine if an attack ever reaches that point; and what can be done to protect Nicholas from touching or being touched by peanuts.

By way of protection, Nicholas’ teacher promised that they would “make hand-washing a way of life in the classroom” which, of course, benefits everyone concerned.

So at age six, he is relatively safe. But as time goes on, things will most likely become more complicated because there is no cure for peanut allergy, although researchers are hard at work on the problem.

And it is definitely a problem. Of approximately 12 million Americans who have food allergies, 2.2 million are school age kids. Although exact figures are unavailable, we are told that the number of peanut-allergic children five years old and under more than doubled between 1999 and 2002. Bear in mind that the way things now stand, all these youngsters are saddled with this condition for life.

Fortunately, some people are not ready to let a peanut get the best of them. They are the 30,000 worldwide members and supporters of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN). National Honorary Chair of this dedicated group is famed  country music singer Trace Adkins, whose six-year-old daughter is allergic to peanuts. FAAN’s mission is to support research efforts and build greater awareness of food allergies through the media, education and advocacy.

The rest of us can help make it mission accomplished by donating to FAAN’s upcoming Walk for Food Allergy. It is scheduled for November 16 at the beach in Santa Monica, California. Contributions large and small are welcome—and very much needed.

Checks may be sent to FAAN Walk for Food Allergy, 11781 Lee Jackson Hwy, Suite 160 Fairfax, Virginia 22033-3309. Online contributions go to

The theme of this year’s walk is “Moving Toward A Cure.” For Nicholas and all the other “peanut kids,” this is certainly a move in the right direction.  







How High Is High?

By Shell Lessen

The Los Angeles Times recently carried a short Associated Press report that can lead to a long list of problems. 

It seems that booze brewer MillerCoors is coming out with a new alcoholic energy drink, and officials representing 25 states have asked the company to  “abandon” its plan to market it. There were even hints of a lawsuit, if necessary, according to the AP.

What got half the country riled up is the fact that Sparks Red, the drink in question, reduces a drinker’s sense of intoxication. One official called it “a recipe for disaster.” And he might have a point.

If MillerCoors wins out, it could be “bye bye Red Bull. Hi there, Sparky.”  Now we can drink more, get smashed faster and still not really feel drunk. The party is scheduled to start October 1 when Sparks Red goes on sale, a company spokesperson said. For some people, the party could end in tragedy—unscheduled but not unexpected.

Caffeine is a stimulant. Alcohol is a depressant. As a team, they’re pretty scary. The stimulant is what keeps you from realizing how much alcohol you drink and how drunk you really are. Fatigue usually lets people know when they’ve had enough, and they pass out or go to sleep voluntarily. No way will you feel tired with a system filled to the brim with caffeine.            

Of course, if you drive with all that alcohol sloshing around, you may not notice that your car is drifting across the double lane into oncoming traffic—or heading straight for that young couple in the middle of the crosswalk. But that’s another story; or it could be.

A caffeine-alcohol high puts you right up there on top of the world— sharp, happy, fully aware of what’s happening, energetic as hell. Until the stimulant finally wears off and the depressant effects of the alcohol take over. This can result in vomiting in your sleep or respiratory depression, which means your body is not ventilating as it should. Typically, this life-threatening condition stems from a drug overdose.

Speaking of overdosing, high levels of caffeine can boost heart rate and blood pressure causing palpitations. And when you spice things up with alcohol, the chance of developing heart rhythm problems increases.

Another thing: alcoholic energy drinks, and energy drinks in general, are not compatible with all prescription drugs. Reactions can be catastrophic. So if you’re on any prescription drugs, don’t party until you check with your doctor to see what the risks are.

Keep this in mind, too: You can’t beat the dehydrating power of energy drinks with alcohol. Caffeine is a diuretic to behold. Meanwhile, dehydration can hinder the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol. This increases toxicity, producing a world class hangover.

After reading this, you can take a superdude approach and believe that all the bad stuff associated with alcohol-caffeine energy drinks happens to other people. Or you can read a few of the more telling results of a survey conducted by the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

More than 4,000 college students from 10 universities were queried. Those who used energy drinks were twice as likely to be injured, require medical attention or ride with a drunk driver. Students who drank alcoholic energy drinks were more than twice as likely to take advantage of someone sexually and almost twice as likely to be taken advantage of.

It makes you wonder: Is the high you get from these drinks high enough to compensate for all the time you’ll spend in harm’s way—and the risks you run getting there?








A Political Disappearing Act

By Shell Lessen

Very often, words from the presidential candidates come to us in the form of quotes or key phrases crafted to reflect the light of absolute truth. Their thoughts, opinions and programs are praised but not explained. It’s as if implying that they are the solutions to problems makes it so.

Slogan-style pronouncements have always been prominent cogs in the machinery of political campaigns—and political rhetoric in general, for that matter.  But this year one old standby that has served Republicans and Democrats since 9/11 didn’t make the cut.

I forget its exact wording, but this should jog some memories:

Giving up a few civil liberties is both right and often necessary when national security is threatened.

Those 17 words spell out the reasoning behind passage of the USA Patriot Act by wide margins in both houses of Congress. President Bush signed the act into law on October 26, 2001, and it was re-authorized in 2006.

Through the years, the Patriot Act has become extremely controversial. Many contend it has dangerously curtailed our civil liberties. Yet neither John McCain nor Barack Obama has taken a public stand on the issue.

Reason: Both have too much to lose. USA Patriot Act is an acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”

To oppose this with the terrorist threat still strong might call one’s patriotism into question. To publicly favor it is to risk being branded a fascist-in-training. So what’s a high-stakes politician to do? Just what we’ve come to expect—nothing.

President Bush isn’t wimpy about acting on the issue of civil liberties.  Early in July he signed off on amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that reduce the FISA court’s authority as overseer of governmental surveillance activities.

Prior to this action, FISA prohibited the government from conducting electronic surveillance without first obtaining an individualized court order. Now it’s practically open season.

FISA also took a big hit following passage of the Patriot Act. This granddaddy of all anti-civil liberties legislation makes it easier for the government to obtain the personal records of American citizens from libraries and Internet service providers, even if they are not suspected of having terrorist connections. The feds can do all this, and get hold of financial records as well, without a court order.

Eight U.S. attorneys can testify to the power of the Patriot Act. Under its terms the administration now has the authority to dismiss federal attorneys without Senate confirmation. And out the door all eight of them went—seven on December 7, 2006 and one a few months earlier. They didn’t get the boot for neglect of duties or bad behavior. Their offense was not being staunch enough Republicans.

Defenders of the act ignore such incidents, reminding us instead that no terrorist attacks have occurred in this country since it became law. They also contend that the Patriot Act facilitates communication between the FBI and CIA which assures faster, more coordinated response to terrorist moves.

In addition, U.S. Attorney Roslyn Mauskopf of New York has credited the Patriot Act with enabling her office to convict two men of funneling $20 million to terrorist groups.

These pros and cons of the Patriot Act make an excellent starting point for some form of exchange between senators Obama and McCain on the relevance of civil liberties during a national emergency. But, chances are, it won’t happen.

As a result, we will not know before we vote what our next president believes regarding an issue that directly affects us by withholding some of our most precious individual rights. What an inappropriate time for two would-be leaders of the free world to keep their mouths shut.