Law Helps Schools Deal with Allergic Reactions; Federal Grant Helps Buy Epinephrine Injections, Train Staff to Use Them

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Byline: Denise Smith Amos

A federal law takes effect Wednesday that will financially reward states that allow schools to stock up on injectable epinephrine - often called EpiPens - in case children suffer potentially deadly allergic reactions to food or drugs.

The new law, signed in November by President Barack Obama, puts states with EpiPen laws at the top of the list for Department of Health and Human Services grants usually used to combat asthma. Now the grants will also help schools buy EpiPens and train school staff how to use them.

Florida schools are set to benefit.

In July state leaders enacted their own law that for the first time gives school districts and private and charter schools the right to keep and use EpiPens for dangerous allergy emergencies - even if the ill student hadn't been diagnosed before with an allergy. National studies say nearly a fourth of severe allergic reactions at schools occur in undiagnosed students.

The new state law also gives schools and staff legal protection in case they inject a student who is later found to not be allergic.

Both laws will make schools safer for all children, not just those identified as having a deadly food allergy, local advocates said.

"There's a tremendous increase in the presence of food allergies," said Thomas Lupoli, of the Allergy and Asthma Specialists of North Florida, which has four locations in Jacksonville. "For every food allergy there's always a first reaction. But even that first allergic reaction could be life threatening."

Nearly 6 million children in the United States are known to have food allergies; that means one in 13 kids or up to two students per class, according to various national estimates.

Peanut allergies alone have more than tripled between 1997 and 2007. Other dangerous allergies are caused by insect bites or stings or by prescribed antibiotics or other medications.

The reactions are not as mild as hives or runny noses. Severe allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis, may start with a large itchy red rash but can progress within 20 minutes into difficulty breathing, wheezing, swelling of the throat and tongue, and low blood pressure. …