Richard Hyatt

Richard Hyatt: School stock of Epi-Pens could save lives

Get out your medical dictionary for we’re going to deal with some big words that sometimes affect little people.

Words like epinephrine, anaphylactic and auto-injectors should be in our grade school vocabulary to help educators deal with a growing number of youngsters threatened by life-threatening food allergies.

Peanut allergies are one of the most common. A study conducted by the Food Allergy Research & Education board shows the number of children suffering from this allergy more than tripled between 1997 and 2008.

Six percent of children in the United States are in danger, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns. The CDC recommends that schools develop a plan for dealing with a food allergy emergency. Such incidents lead to more than a rash or an itch. A child's body has an immune response to certain foods that can result in anaphylactic shock, which closes the airways and can cause death.

There is no cure. A person that comes in contact with an allergen must immediately be given a dose of epinephrine found in a shot known as an Epi-Pen. Older children in Georgia that have a prescription can bring one to school and give themselves a shot if needed. Younger children's Epi-Pens are kept in the clinic and are administered by the school nurse, according to Muscogee County policy.

The Georgia Legislature has passed a bill that allows school systems or individual schools to obtain Epi-Pens from the manufacturer free of charge. Applications are available online and these products can be used by a child in need who does not have a prescribed Epi-Pen. Ten districts in Georgia have taken advantage of this offer but Muscogee County is not among them.

As the parents of a child with a peanut allergy, we have seen what exposure does to her physically. We also see the fear in her eyes when she's around something as simple as a peanut butter sandwich in the school cafeteria.

She isn't alone. Using CDC figures, nearly 19,000 children in the school district suffer from a food allergy and those numbers are increasing. Having a stock of free Epi-Pens might save a life. So could a training program for classroom teachers. Treatment is one thing, but the best prevention would be safer lunch menus and better-policed lunchrooms.

And it would be better to act sooner rather than later.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906