Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

How to ensure no schoolchild dies of an allergy attack

By Ruchi Gupta, Special to CNN
March 7, 2013 -- Updated 1429 GMT (2229 HKT)
Birthday party cupcakes or holiday treats brought from home can pose a risk to schoolkids with severe food allergies.
Birthday party cupcakes or holiday treats brought from home can pose a risk to schoolkids with severe food allergies.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruchi Gupta: Exposure to a peanut speck can kill an allergic schoolchild in minutes
  • This time of year, holiday snacks brought in from home carry allergy risks, she says
  • Gupta: Easy to save a life if schools have epinephrine on hand and can administer it
  • School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act crucial, she says, as allergies increase

Editor's note: Ruchi Gupta, a physician and Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project, is associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Program for Maternal and Child Health at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. She is the author of "The Food Allergy Experience."

(CNN) -- Children should not die in schools. Children should not die from eating common foods. A minuscule speck of a peanut, not even visible, should not take a young child's life in minutes.

And yet this has happened in the past two years -- to 13-year-old Kaitlyn in Chicago and to 7-year-old Ammaria in Virginia. As the holidays approach and celebratory treats are brought into schools from home, we must ensure children with food allergies are safe.

Congress can contribute to that by rapidly passing the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. This bill would provide states with incentives to require elementary schools and secondary schools to maintain, and permit school personnel to administer, epinephrine -- a form of adrenaline that eases hives and breathing difficulties and when injected, prevents rapid death.

Ruchi Gupta
Ruchi Gupta

Quite reasonably, many people are a bit suspicious of the new hypersensitivity about foods, wondering if a little hysteria surrounds the issue. Most adults -- including me -- grew up in a world where PB&J was a staple. I don't remember having a single friend whose food was restricted for fear of a reaction that could take his or her life.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Unfortunately, and for reasons no one fully understands, food allergies have indeed become more common and more severe.

In 2010, I was part of a group of researchers at Northwestern University of Medicine who surveyed a demographically representative sample of 40,000 U.S. families. In a peer-reviewed study published in Pediatrics in June 2011, we revealed our findings: One in 13 children in the U.S. has a food allergy, and 40% of those have had a potentially life-threatening reaction such as difficulty breathing and throat constriction. To put that in perspective, that means two children in every school classroom, or almost 6 million American kids, have a food allergy that could potentially endanger their lives.

Girl with peanut allergy dies at school
Colds versus allergies in children
Food allergy treatment shows promise

And yet food is a part of almost everything children do. In school, they eat breakfast, lunch, snacks, treats. They eat special items for birthdays, holidays, and random celebrations. Even if every mother and father tries to be especially careful about what they send to school, no one can predict when a child with a food allergy will accidentally have a reaction to something.

Fortunately, a simple and affordable solution can save lives and relieve at least some of the stress and anxiety about children's well-being. In 2011, the Chicago Public Schools put into place the Illinois School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. All 681 Chicago public schools, collectively educating more than 400,000 children, have an epinephrine auto-injector to quickly administer the medicine needed to help save a child's life in a severe allergy attack. School nurses and staff know exactly how to respond in a food allergy emergency.

Congress has an opportunity to pass a similar bill before it ends its session. Sen. Richard Durbin introduced the School Access to Epinephrine Act on November 17, 2011. It can and should be passed.

Why should the nation invest in preventing allergic reactions to foods in particular? Many other equally urgent health issues -- asthma and obesity -- afflict schoolchildren. And, quite rightly, public health experts and school nurses are working on those health problems as well.

But no one wants a child to die in minutes simply because she ate a cupcake at her friend's school birthday party that was supposedly nut-free -- but had been packaged or made on a counter where nuts had been used. This bill will help schools have epinephrine auto-injectors on hand and trained staff for those emergencies. That could save the lives of those two children in each American classroom who are at risk.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Ruchi Gupta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT