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Food allergy is on the rise, with 6 million children estimated to have food allergies in America. It is alarming that 25 percent of all episodes of food induced allergic reactions at school occur without the child or parent knowing they were allergic to a particular food. I have heard the personal stories of patients and parents who had close calls with their children after a severe allergic reaction. Some were because of a particular food, others because of an insect sting or medication. All live with the realization that exposure to some allergens have potential fatal consequences.
This was the unfortunate outcome just last year in Virginia where first grader Ammaria Johnson died after a severe (anaphylactic) reaction to peanut ingestion at school. Here in Arizona, Anna Aguirre, once a perfectly healthy teenager, had anaphylactic shock after eating cereal containing nuts. She survived a coma but continues to have ongoing disability. In both cases intervention with medication could have altered the outcomes of these children. As a physician, I support the passage of SB1421 because conceivably it assures that potential life saving treatment is available during unexpected and severe reactions. I believe that with access to medication, disability and even death from food induced allergic reactions among students could be prevented. For children, epinephrine is proven to be very safe and highly effective in treating severe allergic reactions.
To that end, SB1421 is well thought out. It accounts for training of school personnel on how to recognize an allergic reaction as well as how to use the auto-injector. Epinephrine auto-injectors are easy to use and easy to train on their use. The signs and symptoms of when to use an epinephrine injector are also easy to describe and list. Furthermore, the bill includes a “Good Samaritan” provision, freeing school personnel to focus on doing what is right for the child.
It is also important to note that local organizations like the Arizona Food Allergy Alliance have been collaborating on the bill’s language and providing pertinent information, including details about programs that provide epinephrine auto-injectors at no cost to schools. This should be fully explored. Furthermore, SB1421 makes sense because it is known that schools are higher risk areas for exposure, as up to 18 percent of children with known food allergies have had accidental exposures at school.
I hope lawmakers support SB1421. It is a step toward better protecting our children. There will always be many cases of children having reactions without already having an established diagnosis of food allergy. And even with appropriately diagnosing children with a specific food allergy and trying to follow strict avoidance strategies there will always be risk of accidental
We can’t ignore the fact that food allergy is on the rise and having better access to treatment for life threatening reactions is crucial to the safety of our children. What better place to start this awareness and improve safety than at our schools.
— Dr. Levente E. Erdos is a board certified allergist and 2012 president of the Arizona Asthma and Allergy Institute, the largest specialty provider of allergy care in Arizona.