Background Birch allergy is one of the most common pollinosis in areas where exposure to high levels of birch pollen is common. Little is known about birch sensitivity in areas without birch pollen exposure and reactivity to birch-related species within the Fagales order.
Objective the aim was to evaluate Fagales reactivity within a population not exposed to birch pollen using epidemiological, diagnostic, and laboratory approaches by means of extracts and allergenic molecules.
Methods A cohort of 5335 respiratory allergic patients was screened by means of skin testing birch, hazel, and oak pollen extracts. Patients were from a birch-free area, but exposed to other Fagales pollen species. A subset of patients was from an intensively cultivated hazel area. A sample of the Fagales allergic population was tested with other Fagales pollen extract (alder, hornbeam, beech, chestnut) and with apple and hazelnut. IgE detection was performed with birch, hazel, oak, apple, and hazelnut extracts, and with Bet v 1, Bet v 2, Bet v 4, and bromelain. IgE immunoblots were performed using birch and hazel extracts. Epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory data were analysed by stratifying the allergic population.
Results Twenty-five percent of the pollen allergic cohort was skin test positive to at least one of the three Fagales species. Combined reactivity to the three species was recorded in 80% of this cohort. Isolated hazel pollen reactivity was recorded in 13.5% of the Fagales allergic patients. Sixty-six percent of these subjects were from the intensively cultivated hazel area. Reactivity to apple and hazelnut was detected by skin test (40%) and IgE reactivity (60%), but only 19% of the positive patients reported symptoms related to at least one of the two foods. Reactivity to Bet v 1 was recorded in 84% of the birch/hazel/oak co-reactivity group, and in 28% of the subjects with the same co-reactivity, but associating a multiple pollen sensitization. IgE to Bet v 2 (50%) and Bet v 4 (23%) panallergens were recorded positive in the latter subset. Bet v 1 prevalence ranged between 48% and 21% among subgroups of patients coming from different areas. Furthermore, an IgE reactivity to hazel-restricted allergenic components was detected among subjects coming from the same area and having a hazel isolated reactivity.
Conclusion Fagales allergy can be found in birch-free areas caused by the exposure to other Fagales species. Birch allergens can be useful for mimicking the allergenic extract, but are also the exclusive tools for a fine diagnostic and epidemiological approach to Fagales pollen allergy. Allergenic molecules from the hazel family will increase the panel of available reagents for the molecule-based approach to allergy diagnosis and therapy.