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
updated 9:29 AM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
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
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT