How you would like your child’s school year to start out something like this: It is a typical day during lunchtime at the local elementary school cafeteria. A kindergartner with a severe peanut allergy trades lunch with a friend. Little does he know, the shared cookie contains peanut butter. The child develops a red rash, swelling around the eyes and has some trouble breathing within minutes of eating the cookie. Pretty scary, right? The good news, schools are now better equipped to deal with life-threatening allergic reactions such as this thanks to the passage of new legislation which allows the stocking and administration of epinephrine auto-injectors (commonly referred to as Epi-pens™) in Illinois schools.
In August 2011, Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn signed into law House Bill 3294, The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. The bill is responsible for three major advances in the medical preparedness for allergy emergencies in school settings:
- Allows (but does not require) schools to keep a supply of emergency epinephrine auto-injectors for students
- Allows school nurses or trained personnel to administer epinephrine auto-injectors to any child having a severe allergic reaction, regardless of whether the child has been previously diagnosed with an allergy
- Protects all school personnel from liability when an epinephrine auto-injector is administered in good faith.
For years, epinephrine auto-injectors have been available by prescription in the adult strength EpiPen™ and and child strength EpiPen Jr™ (as well as other brand names including TwinJect™ and Adrenaclick™). Auto-injectors are portable, pre-filled, spring-loaded syringes intended for rapid intramuscular administration to the thigh by the patient or other trained individual. It is important to note that epinephrine auto-injectors should be used in very specific situations. For administration information about Epi Pen ®, click this link.
This emergency medication may be life-saving since it rapidly counteracts many of the serious allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis (drop in blood pressure, shock, airway swelling, respiratory distress, cardiac collapse and death). Some well known allergens that may cause these reactions include: bee stings, medications such as penicillin, or food products especially nuts, dairy products, and shellfish (eg. shrimp).
Why is the availability of the epinephrine auto-injectors in school such an important development?
- Twenty-five percent of first-time reactions to peanuts or tree nuts among children occurred in a school setting
- In instances in which the epinephrine auto-injector was administered at schools, 20% involved students whose condition was unknown at the time.
It is believed the enactment and implementation of this new law will go a long way to make the school a safer environment for those with histories of severe hypersensitivies to dietary and environmental allergens. In 2009, US poison control centers fielded over 44,000 calls regarding adverse reactions to drugs and over 5,500 calls regarding adverse reactions to food. In addition to poisoning emergencies, the Illinois Poison Center can be considered the “EPI-Center” for questions regarding food or drug reactions, including allergies. Don’t stall, just call the Illinois Poison Center expert, confidential hotline 1-800-222-1222.
By: Jason Groch, Matt Biszewski, and Tony Burda