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September 6, 2006

Increasing Food Allergy Awareness in Schools

Here's an article written in June of this year in the San Diego Union Tribune. A good discussion of how schools are addressing the emergency aspect of child food allergies.

Food allergy awareness sought
Groups want schools to be equipped for emergencies

By Helen Gao

Everywhere Andrew and Carolyn Brown take their 5-year-old son, Drew, they carry a medical rescue pack containing EpiPens and Benadryl.

Buu Luong, 13, an eighth-grader at Mann Middle School, sampled an oatmeal raisin cookie during a taste test Friday. Students also tasted sunflower seed butter. EpiPens are syringes filled with epinephrine, an emergency drug used to counteract life-threatening allergic reactions to food and insect bites. Benadryl is for treating mild reactions.

Drew suffers from peanut and tree nut allergies. When he enters kindergarten at Jerabek Elementary School in September, he will be one of about 20 children at the Scripps Ranch campus with a severe allergy.

Pointing to a rising number of children with food allergies locally and nationally, a group of about 30 San Diego parents, including the Browns, recently created The Alliance for Nut Allergic Children.

The group plans to lobby the San Diego school board Tuesday to adopt protocols districtwide to prevent and respond to food-related anaphylaxis, the medical term for a severe reaction. Advocates also are working at the state and national level on legislation to address food allergies at schools.

The parent alliance wants to ensure epinephrine is readily accessible at schools and during school-sponsored activities and that adults are trained to administer it. It also wants to remove and prohibit peanuts, tree nuts and related products from cafeteria menus, and prevent students and teachers from eating or using them for projects in classrooms.

Alliance members say they don't have a problem with children bringing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school, as long as the food is consumed outside the classroom.

Peanuts, a legume, and tree nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, are leading allergens. Peanut allergies doubled between 1997 and 2002, according to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Other foods frequently blamed for allergic reactions are wheat, soy, milk, eggs, fish and shellfish.

Food allergies affect 12 million Americans, according to The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, an advocacy group. They cause about 30,000 emergency room visits each year, and 150 to 200 people die annually, the network estimates.

Symptoms of anaphylactic shock include difficulty breathing, vomiting and loss of consciousness.

Andrew Brown said many people still don't understand the severity.

“When you tell them it's life or death, they think you are exaggerating,” he said. “They are think you are being overly sensitive because it's your child.”

That may be changing.

A bill pending in Congress calls for the federal government to develop guidelines for managing the risks of allergies and anaphylaxis in schools.

The West Coast Allergy and Asthma Network, a Pleasanton-based nonprofit group, is working on state legislation to ensure all schools carry epinephrine, as well as nebulizers and albuterol, which treat asthma. Children with multiple food allergies also may suffer from asthma.

A small number of districts, including the Chula Vista Elementary School District, buy and stock epinephrine at all their schools.

“Rarely a year goes by where we haven't used an EpiPen for a child in our stock. We have saved lives,” said Dale Parent, health services coordinator for the Chula Vista district.


Posted by David at September 6, 2006 10:23 AM