New NY State Law Could Help Prevent Fatal Allergic Reactions Inside Schools

You just don’t know what is in your food these days, and for some, this can be fatal. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that’s rapid onset and can cause hospitalization and sometimes death.  It is commonly caused by insect bites/stings, foods, and medications and can cause a number of symptoms including a rash, throat swelling or closure, vomiting, and low blood pressure. The immediate emergency treatment for Anaphylaxis involves the administering of an epinephrine auto-injector or EpiPen.  Small children are especially vulnerable when it comes to allergic reactions as they cannot administer their own EpiPen and many of them with severe allergies take one to school in case of an allergic onset.

In some schools, children eat in their classrooms while supervised by their teachers while many schools have only one professional trained in the administration of the EpiPen, the school nurse. In extreme cases of allergic reactions, the school nurse could be too far away to offer emergency assistance leaving it up to the teacher to take quick action. In a study by the New England Journal of Medicine it was found that five of the study’s six fatal allergic reactions occurred in public settings, while the children and adolescents were in school or at a fair. One of the factors believed to have contributed to the study’s fatal outcomes included the failure to administer epinephrine immediately after the onset of reactive symptoms. In Ontario Canada, the death of young girl by the name of Sara Shannon inspired a law that ensured all school boards have policies or procedures in place to address anaphylaxis in schools, which includes providing instruction to staff and guidance on the administration of medication. Now in New York State, a similar bill has been introduced to the Assembly that could change the awareness and training of EpiPen usage to new teachers entering the school system.

Bill number S4876 is an act to amend the education law, which would require newly certified teachers to receive free instruction in the use of an epinephrine auto-injector. The bill was developed by former lawyer turned stay at home mom Stacey Saiontz who lives in Westchester and has a son with severe food allergies. She discovered his allergies as an infant when he began vomiting after nursing and developed skin rashes all over his body. After searching for answers, doctors discovered that he was allergic to everything. “As the mother of a young son with life-threatening allergies to dairy, egg, wheat, oat, rye, barley, tree nuts and sesame, I never leave my son with an adult or babysitter who doesn’t understand how to administer an epinephrine auto-injector. This is because if a child is experiencing anaphylaxis, their throat can close within seconds to minutes, often not enough time for 911 assistance. In NY State, teachers who we entrust our children with for the majority of our waking hours are not required to be trained in administering this life saving medication.“ The Bill does not cost the State any money as teachers can receive instruction from many free online courses that will train them, and/or be trained by the nurse at the school. Cait Lang, a teacher at a NYC private school says that she was required to train in the use of an EpiPen during her CPR course. Teachers in her school carry EpiPens when children go to the park or local market. She sees no downside to training but says that some teachers may be nervous about using a needle on a child. “I have luckily not had to use it as of yet but there is no harm in being educated in using the EpiPen if the situation arises. Children have so many allergies and they are growing by the day. This [law] could not hurt, it could only help.”

Maribel Leon’s 13 year old daughter has a severe allergy that causes a gastro intestinal reaction and her blood pressure drops causing her to risk passing out. Because of this, she has an EpiPen at school and one at home. Her daughter has had the allergy for so long that she is trained to administer her own EpiPen but Maribel says her daughter “would likely not self administer the pen and would turn to an adult for help. Time is precious in an allergic reaction; it can happen so quickly she can go from not feeling well to the next moment nearly passing out.”  Sarah Gitlin grew up in New York and now as an adult, remembers being a child in school with severe allergies. “Many schools wanted to keep the EpiPen in the nurses office but my parents and I insisted that it always had to be right near me” Sarah says that a lot of people are intimidated by the EpiPen because it is a needle but it is not a complex procedure “All you must do is remove the safety cap, put it against the thigh, hold it against the skin, and that’s it. The needle is inside the applicator and it comes out when it makes firm contact with the skin.“ Sarah has had to use the EpiPen many times in her life and it has made the difference in her being able to feel better and get to a hospital  “It is so critical that it can literally save your life. It has an instant benefit, a magic bullet”

This new law could offer some parents peace of mind when sending their children into schools. The bill needs to be put forth for a vote by the Assembly and once it does it could be on it’s way through the system. If you feel that this bill bill belongs on the Assembly’s agenda please contact the Chair of the Education Committee, Catherine Nolan of Queens, and let her know how you feel.