Clegg: A solution to a silent killer

BY CHRIS CLEGG | MARCH 05, 2015 5:00 AM

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If you were to venture a guess at what sends more than 300,000 kids under the age of 18 to the hospital annually or what causes more than 200,000 emergency-room visits each year, you may go with such standard killers as car accidents or cigarettes. Well, I can tell you that it’s neither of those, nor is it disease, gang violence, or cancer. In fact, you could probably exhaust your entire list of guesses before you would come up with the answer: allergies.

It’s true. According to foodallergy.org, an organization whose mission is to “improve the quality of life and the health of individuals with food allergies and to provide them hope through the promise of new treatments,” the startling statistics mentioned above are all the kids at the mercy of different allergens.

Severe allergic reactions, also known as anaphylaxis, can result in anything from a sore throat to being commatose within minutes of the reaction. Given this broad spectrum of possibilities, the government owes it to current and future generations to pursue legislation promoting the requirement of public schools to carry and administer epinephrine.

Epinephrine, or, simply, adrenaline, is the “first line of defense to treat [a] reaction …” according to the same site. Thankfully, in the technological age of modern science, this first line of defense has been made readily available to the public through the development of handheld epinephrine injectors (EpiPens). While the market is saturated with a slew of different EpiPens, the response to implement them in our public schools has been slow to gain traction.

Currently, AP reports, only four states (Virginia, Nebraska, Maryland, and Nevada) require schools to carry epinephrine. Even though current law prohibits Iowa schools to administer epinephrine to students who don’t have a prescription for it, Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, hopes to pass legislation that would make the medication available to whomever needs it, prescription or no. “We’ve been working on it for quite a number of years,” Mascher told The Daily Iowan. “It has passed a committee in the Senate and should make it to the floor for voting sometime next week.”

This new piece of legislation, Mascher said, would allow facilities such as elementary schools to obtain prescriptions for epinephrine and provide the necessary training to school staff to administer the medication. This bill would also benefit “young, young children who can’t administer the medication themselves,” Mascher said. Should this bill gain the support it needs to pass, we should be able to eliminate cases like that of Chauncey Parker from Hoover Elementary in Iowa City.

As Epiexpert.com reported, Chauncey, a student at Hoover with an allergy to peanuts, was repeatedly let down by school officials when he accidentally consumed a peanut-butter sandwich last October. After reporting his symptoms to a Hoover staff member, not only was he allowed to go out for recess, his parents weren’t even informed of the incident until several hours after the reported symptoms, cites the report. While this case fortunately turned out not to be “just another statistic,” the mishandling of the situation highlights the lack of awareness surrounding anaphylaxis.

The events at Hoover further reinforce the notion that school staff need to be provided with both the materials and training to administer shots of epinephrine. If losing, breaking, and forgetting an EpiPen are all possible things that any full-grown human would do, imagine the chance of one of these occurrences happening to a fourth-grader whose daily activities include recess, PE, and a lunchtime that combines a litany of different food products coming into contact with another.

Because children should not be entrusted with the massive responsibility of their own well-being, it is up to our local and national governments to provide the services they need, especially when those services are a matter of life and death.

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