Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Experimental Vaccine for Hay Fever

An article in the October 5, 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine discusses a controlled trial of a vaccine that may be useful for persons allergic to ragweed, which is a major precipitant of allergic rhinitis ("hay fever"). The vaccine was given to 25 patients in a single (for each patient) series of six injections over a 6-week period, and appeared to lessen the symptoms of hay fever through 2 consecutive allergy (ragweed) seasons. The shots were given once a week for six weeks.

This study indicates that in this particular trial, the vaccine was effective, and that the effect may be long-lasting. This is in contrast to current standard allergy immunotherapy injections, which are given as a series of 14 to 27 injections prior to the beginning of the ragweed season. In prior studies, recipients of the standard allergy shots did not show persistent (e.g., beyond one season) benefit after discontinuation of shots until after they had been the recipients of shots for at least 3 to 4 years. So, if the data presented in this current study of the new vaccine hold up, the new vaccine would represent the first immunotherapy method for ragweed allergy that creates a persistent effect after a single course of therapy.

Other encouraging observations are the fact that there were no adverse events attributable to the new vaccine, and there were no local reactions (to the injections). While the number of patients studied was small, this may indicate that the vaccine is not only quite useful, but safer than current products used for standard allergy immunotherapy.

Dynavax Technologies is the company behind the vaccine. The next step in development of this vaccine will be a large phase-3 study to prove if these results can be generalized to a larger patient population. Given the tens of millions of Americans who suffer each year from hay fever, this will be an important investigation.

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photo by Paul Auerbach
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Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.