WASHINGTON — The deaths of two girls in Illinois and Virginia from severe food allergies have helped spur efforts to get schools to stockpile emergency medications that can save lives.
That effort has now reached the highest level: President Barack Obama's desk. The president signed a bipartisan bill on Wednesday that offers a financial incentive to states if schools stockpile epinephrine, considered the first-line treatment for people with severe allergies. The medication is administered by injection, through preloaded EpiPens or similar devices.
"This is something that will save children's lives," Obama said, adding that his daughter Malia has a peanut allergy.
Several states have passed or are considering bills that also aim to stock epinephrine in schools. And late last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first guidelines to schools on how to protect kids with food allergies. The guidelines, which are voluntary, ask schools to take steps to restrict common foods that cause allergic reactions and to make epinephrine available.
"Everything is moving in the direction which adheres to our mission, which is to keep kids safe and included in schools," said John Lehr, the chief executive officer of the Food Allergy Research and Education advocacy organization.
Epinephrine can be used for severe allergic reactions to food, insect bites, latex and medication.
The epinephrine stockpiling is aimed primarily at children who have previously undiagnosed allergies or as a backup for those with known allergies.
A recent CDC survey found that about one in 20 U.S. children had food allergies — a 50 percent increase from the late 1990s.