Peanut shells scattered in neighbourhood worry parents of allergic toddler

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The parents of a 14-month-old girl with a severe nut allergy are worried for her safety after finding peanut shells mysteriously scattered in their yard and around their Halifax neighbourhood.

Aki Tsirigotis noticed the shells when he and his wife, Natasha Chidiac, moved into the neighbourhood of Fairmont, but said he became acutely aware of them when they discovered the severity of their daughter Fanoula's allergy.

Last summer, the girl had a bad reaction after eating peas, which contain the same reactive protein as peanuts.  

"Her body had hives and her lips started swelling, so I had to administer the EpiPen," said Chidiac. "We had to call 911 and rush her to emergency. Thank God I caught her reaction in time."

The couple said they began seeing an allergy and immunology doctor, and taking precautions such as checking the lawn for peanut shells. 

Food for thought

"At first I thought it might be some debris that had blown away from someone's compost bin," said Tsirigotis. "But now we're kind of convinced someone is feeding them [to animals]. We've heard from other neighbours that they've had the same issue."

He suspects the shells are being scattered by squirrels and crows, and wants whoever is feeding the animals to stop.

Tsirigotis posted about the shells in a neighbourhood Facebook group, letting neighbours know about his concerns. He added that Fanoula's doctor said peanut protein can sometimes last up to three days in a shell. Four other people from the area spoke up on Facebook to say they'd found shells too.

Kids will play

Tsirigotis said Fanoula loves to be outside, and with warmer weather on the way he wants to make sure their yard is a safe place for her to play. He said he's worried because toddlers are known for exploring and putting things in their mouth. 

"It's pretty severe," said Tsirigotis. "If she comes into contact with any quantity of peanut, even if it's a small quantity, she'll have an anaphylactic reaction."

Not to worry

But Dr. Greg Rex, a pediatric allergy specialist in Halifax, said the couple shouldn't worry themselves too much. 

"I would say, frankly, there's other things [children] could pick up outside and put in their mouth that are more dangerous than a peanut shell," he said. 

Rex said if a child happens to eat a peanut left in one of the shells, it could cause an anaphylactic reaction. But he believes the chances of an allergic child finding and eating a shell with a peanut in it is low.

He said he wants people to prepare appropriately for allergy risks, but he thinks families can go about their lives normally.

"In practical terms, I've never seen a toddler have a reaction that way, and the amount of protein that would actually be on that shell, left over, I think would be negligible," he said. "I wouldn't worry about it at all." 

Even so, Aki Tsirigotis said his daughter's safety isn't worth any amount of risk, and hopes whoever is feeding animals peanuts will co-operate and stop.