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Peanut allergy was first documented in several post-WWII studies of adults and children injected with the new 'wonder drug' penicillin. At this time, a challenge existed in that a dose of penicillin would last just a few hours. To prolong the action of this drug, army doctor Cpt. Monroe Romansky mixed it with what was available during wartime - peanut oil and beeswax. It was a simple solution - the body would metabolize the oil and slowly release the drug into the bloodstream.
Unfortunately, Romansky's formula also sensitized a handful of children and adults to peanuts. To reduce this side effect, the peanut oil was refined to remove as much sensitizing protein as possible. And yet, according to the FDA most "highly refined" peanut oil contains trace intact proteins 0.014 to 16.7 µg protein/ml oil. Regardless, with its relative safety in penicillin, peanut oil was adopted into common use within the pharmaceutical industry.
In 1964, Merck announced that it had patented a revolutionary peanut oil vaccine adjuvant. This news was reported in 1964 and 1966 The New York Times with follow up in medical literature through the early 70s. Merck's Adjuvant 65-4 provoked such high levels of antibodies - 64 times higher than the same vaccine in an aqueous solution - that any vaccine to which it was added could produce many years worth of immunity. Was this potency safe? A 1973 WHO report co-written by Adjuvant 65-4 inventor Maurice Hilleman found the use of peanut oil was relatively safe if properly injected to avoid "severe adverse reactions". But the safety of the adjuvant was challenged by others including D. Hobson in the Postgraduate Medical Journal (March, 1973). Hobson documented the power of this adjuvant to sensitize recipients to vaccine proteins. This adjuvant created allergies.
Peanut allergy in children and adults grew slowly until the late 1980's when its prevalence began to accelerate in children in certain westernized countries such as the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. This rise is documented by ER records, two cohort studies from the Isle of Wight and eye-witness accounts. In the early 1990s, teachers in the affected countries were taken aback by a sudden surge of food allergic kindergarten children.