Child with seafood allergy died after inhaling fish fumes, father says

The boy's grandmother was cooking salted cod before he died.
The boy's grandmother was cooking salted cod before he died. Photo: Supplied

Cod was cooking on the stove when 11-year-old Cameron Jean-Pierre arrived at his grandmother's home in New York.

Cameron, who had a known allergy to seafood, started to wheeze during the visit this week, so his father said he reached for his son's asthma medication. But this time, the nebuliser machine that Cameron had used during allergy attacks in the past, did not seem to be working - the young boy could not breathe in the air, his father said.

"That's when I called 911," his father, Steven Jean-Pierre, said on Thursday. Jean-Pierre said his son was gasping, saying: "I love you, Daddy. I love you. I feel like I'm dying."

The boy was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A spokeswoman with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York City said the cause of death has not yet been determined, but Cameron's father said his son died after inhaling the fish fumes.

The sixth-grader, who lived in Piscataway, New Jersey, was described by his father as an "ambitious," "athletic" and good student.

"He loved life," Jean-Pierre said about his young son. "For the 11 years he was in this world, he touched a lot of people."

Piscataway Superintendent of Schools Teresa Rafferty said in a statement that the school community "is deeply saddened by the loss of Cameron and we express our heartfelt sympathies to his family and friends".

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"He was a good student and a positive and happy presence in the classroom," she added.

NBC New York reported that the police do not suspect any criminality in Cameron's death.

Nearly 6 million children in the United States are estimated to have food allergies, including finned fish such as salmon, tuna and halibut, according to Food Allergy Research & Education.

Adela Taylor, who chairs the allergy and asthma centre at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, said it is also possible "to have an allergic reaction to steam or fumes produced by cooking seafood".

"The fish protein that is responsible for the allergic reactions is very stable when cooked," the doctor said in an email. "Published research articles indicate fish protein can be detected in steam and fumes during cooking or processing. It is possible that a person who is exposed to cooking steam or fumes, especially in an enclosed space, could have an allergic reaction".

She added: "There are case reports of severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, from inhalation of fumes from cooking fish, but it is a very rare presentation".

Anna Nowak-Wegrzyn, a professor of pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, also emphasised that an allergic reaction would not be caused simply by smelling an allergen but by inhaling the particles that are released into the air by cooking, steaming or roasting. Nowak-Wegrzyn, who specialises in allergy and immunology, said she has had patients who are severely allergic to milk report symptoms such as coughing and wheezing when walking into a coffee shop.

Still, Nowak-Wegrzyn said that it is "incredibly rare".

"You'd have to be very, very, very allergic," she said.

The medical examiner's office is still investigating Cameron's death to determine whether he may have indeed died from fish fumes.

The Washington Post