President Barack Obama is expected to sign a bipartisan bill that offers financial incentives to states whose schools stockpile epinephrine, considered the first-line treatment for severe allergies.
The legislation was prompted by the deaths of two girls, one in Illinois and another in Virginia, from severe food allergies, the Associated Press (AP) reports. Epinephrine, administered by injection, through preloaded EpiPens or similar devices, can save lives when a child experiences a severe allergic reaction—anaphylaxis. The bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Steny Hoyer and Phil Roe. Hoyer’s 11-year-old granddaughter, Alexa, has a severe peanut allergy.
Several states have passed or are considering bills also aimed at stocking epinephrine in schools, primarily in nurse’s offices. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines to schools on how to protect kids with food allergies. The voluntary guidelines ask schools to restrict the foods that commonly cause allergic reactions and to make epinephrine available, according to the AP. “Everything is moving in the direction which adheres to our mission, which is to keep kids safe and included in schools,” said John Lehr, the chief executive officer of the Food Allergy Research and Education advocacy organization.
Severe allergic reactions can be caused by insect bites, latex, and medications, as well as by foods. Schools across the country have varying policies for the handling of epinephrine and restrictions on the highest allergy-risk foods, the AP reports. Some schools have peanut-free tables in the cafeteria, for example, or even peanut-free classrooms. Children with known food allergies often have doses of epinephrine stored at school specifically for them and many carry an injection device in their backpacks. The stockpile is not meant to replace any prescribed medication. Stockpiled doses can serve as a backup and are available for children who experience sudden allergic reactions.
But Dr. Todd Mahr, an allergist in La Crosse, Wisconsin, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on allergy and immunology, cautions parents of children with food allergies not to stop sending their child’s individual epinephrine injections, even if the school has epinephrine. Children with serious allergies need to have medication available throughout the day wherever they are—on the bus, during sports and extracurricular activities.