RochesterApril 8, 2013
Proposed bill could save lives of children in allergic crisis
By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer
ROCHESTER — Keeping children with severe allergies safe in school is a challenge that nearly every school district in the nation faces, since approximately 6 million children in the U.S. currently have one or more food allergies, according to Food Allergy Research and Education.
Accidental exposure to allergens can happen at any time during the school day — a child could get stung by a bee on the playground or come in contact with a food in the cafeteria that can lead to a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis — which causes breathing problems, loss of consciousness and even death within minutes after contact with an allergen, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Whatever the case, it’s important for schools to be prepared if a life-threatening allergic reaction occurs. Studies have indicated that 16-18 percent of school-age children with food allergies have experienced a reaction at school, and in approximately 25 percent of the allergic reactions that occur at school, the student had not yet been diagnosed with a food allergy.
Parents of Michigan children with known life-threatening allergies can take comfort in knowing they can provide their child’s school with an allergy action plan and a prescribed epinephrine auto injector — a medication that can reverse the severe symptoms of anaphylaxis if administered promptly, giving emergency personnel time to treat and save the child’s life.
However, Michigan children with no known allergies — and therefore no personal prescribed epinephrine or allergy plan on site — are left vulnerable at school and must depend on emergency personnel to arrive quickly enough in order to receive epinephrine in time to reverse anaphylaxis and save their lives.
But a new bill could mean the difference between life and death for such students across the state of Michigan.
Introduced in February by State Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, House Bill 4353 requires all public schools across the state to stock at least two nonstudent specific epinephrine auto injectors, or EpiPens, which could be used to prevent or stop life-threatening allergic reactions in any student.
“When it comes to serious allergic reactions, minutes matter, and simple treatments can save lives,” Lyons said in a statement. “As a mom, I cannot imagine what parents who have lost their children to food allergies at school have gone through. By giving our schools these simple life-saving epinephrine injectors, we can take a big step toward saving lives and keeping our kids safer than ever.”
The bill requires that schools with a staff of more than 10 have at least two employees trained, and schools with a staff of fewer than 10 have at least one employee trained in the administration of epinephrine. It also ensures that school employees who administer epinephrine are not liable in a criminal action or for civil damages. A connected bill, HB 4352, would allow doctors to prescribe the EpiPens not to a specific student, but to an entire school.
Nearly two-dozen states have introduced, or are very close to introducing, similar legislation, and 12 states have already passed such laws, according to Food Allergy Research and Education.
Michigan Anaphylaxis Advocacy and Education, a grassroots network of parents committed to raising awareness and advocating for legislative change on behalf of the food-allergy and anaphylaxis community in Michigan, is currently advocating for the passage of the HB 4353.
Amy Derrick, founder and chair of the group, knows firsthand how important it is for schools to be prepared for an allergic reaction. Just this year, Derrick’s 5-year-old daughter, Alexandra — who experiences an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts and tree nuts — had an allergic reaction to a snack she was given at school.
“Parents donate snacks from a list that I worked on with the teacher ahead of time, and somebody just happened to bring in a snack that wasn’t on the list that day. There was a substitute who didn’t think anything of it and essentially ignored the lesson plans and gave out a snack that was processed in the same facility as peanuts and tree nuts,” she said.
Her daughter’s allergic reaction was minor in nature because the 5-year-old decided not to eat the snack — animal crackers, which her parents taught her to avoid due to allergic ingredients.
“Even though my daughter thought it looked suspicious and didn’t eat them, the kid next to her did, and she managed to get hives on her face,” Derrick explained.
Had she ingested the animal crackers, Alexandra Derrick would have likely gone into anaphylaxis, and the school would have been responsible for handling the life-threatening allergic reaction.
Derrick believes the proposed bill is good news, not just for kids who don’t have an epinephrine prescription on site, but also for those who do, because it will raise awareness about what anaphylaxis looks like and how to administer epinephrine.
“It’s such a simple training — I’m actually surprised more schools don’t have their entire staff already trained in how to recognize an anaphylactic reaction and how to treat it in an emergency,” she said.
For the most part, Derrick said, food allergies are just not on people’s radar, which can be frustrating.
“Even with this bill — it has such bipartisan support in other states — but it’s just not a priority for our legislators and it’s not a priority for schools to implement procedures until they have somebody who kind of agitates things and makes it happen. It’s a lot of work for food-allergic families to try to raise that awareness,” she said.
Derrick hopes Michigan legislators pass the bill before her daughter heads to kindergarten next year.
For more information about Michigan Anaphylaxis Advocacy and Education, or to help raise awareness about the bill, visit www.anaphylaxismichigan.org.