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Why schools should always be stocked with EpiPens

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EpiPens in schools could help save the lives of students, and should be stocked in every school, a new study concludes.

Epinephrine is a medicine which is delivered, usually by injection, into people suffering from a severe allergic reaction to an insect bite or food.

EpiPens were used to treat 35 children and three adults in the Chicago Public School System during the 2012-2013 school year. Nurses administered the medicine in three-quarters of these incidents. A total of 14 of the cases took place in high schools, while 24 occurred in elementary school settings.

"We were surprised to see that of those who received the epinephrine, more than half of the reactions were first time incidents. Many children are trying foods for the first time at school and therefore it is critical that schools are prepared for a possible anaphylactic reaction," Ruchi Gupta, lead author of the new research, said.

Roughly 15 percent of children who experience food allergies have experienced one or more incidents while at school. About 25 percent of children who visit the school nurse with allergic reactions were not aware they had an allergy prior to the reaction.

More than 50 million people in the United States experience allergies to one or more substances, including foods, insect stings, and pollen. More than six million American children suffer from food allergies.

The Chicago Public School system was the first major organization of its type in the nation to adopt a comprehensive policy for stocking epinephrine.

"The most common allergies in children are to peanuts and milk; other frequently seen triggers include eggs, fish, shellfish (crab, lobster, crayfish and shrimp), soy, tree nuts (for example, pecans, cashews and walnuts) and wheat. The most severe reactions are typically to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish - all allergies that can last a lifetime. Children often outgrow allergies to milk, eggs, soy and wheat," the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology reports on its Web site.

Peanuts are the most common food allergy among children, which can result in severe, potentially dangerous reactions. Some attacks can result in anaphylaxis, causing difficulty breathing and a drop in blood pressure which can result in shock.

In addition to EpiPen, epinephrine is also sold under the brand names Twinject, Medihaler-Epi, and Adrenaclick. So far, 41 states have laws mandating school stock the emergency allergy medicine. States who have recently updated laws requiring stocks of epinephrine include Connecticut, Ohio, Alabama, Maine, Wisconsin, and Delaware.

A study detailing benefits of epinephrine pens in schools was delivered at the annual meeting of American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology on November 7.

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