In most school districts in Florida and nationally, school nurses may only administer epinephrine — the life-saving injection to counter an allergic reaction — if it has been prescribed to the student.
That was the case in the January death of a seven year-old Virginia girl. Florida lawmakers are now pushing for legislation that would require schools to have a stock of injectable epinephrine on hand for all students in case of an emergency.
Patricia Hughes, supervisor of Health Services for Alachua County, said local schools are ahead of the game by more than 10 years.
“Of course, we do call 911,” she said, “but if a child comes in and they complain that they have a scratchy throat, and have hives on them, and it’s hard to swallow, our nurses are going to immediately start that standing order and immediately give them some Benadryl liquid, then follow that with an epinephrine pen.”
About 150 American children die from anaphylaxis caused by food allergies each year, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Experts say that about 25 percent of severe allergic reactions occur in children who have no allergy history.
Hughes said that all Alachua County school staff and students are prepared for any emergency allergy situation. Although each staff member is trained to deal with allergic reactions in students, only a nurse can administer the epinephrine through an epi-pen.
Alachua County schools always have a supply of epinephrine on hand, and although they are rarely used, Hughes says the drug has saved lives in Alachua County.
“We had quite a few kids come in with stings,” Hughes said, “and one of them was anaphylactic, and we were able to do that and save that child’s life.”