Awareness, preparation the best defence against life-threatening allergies
For the third time since classes resumed this autumn, the issue of how schools accommodate children with allergies has people talking.
Last week, a mother from Vaugn made headlines after asking her son’s school to remove an acorn tree from the school grounds.
Her son is allergic to tree nuts to the point of anaphylaxis – a severe reaction that can be life-threatening. The mother told the city and the York Catholic School Board that the acorns cause rashes and could be deadly if a bully forced ingestion.
Meanwhile, the York public board asked parents last week to stop packing lunches with nut-free spreads that look like peanut butter, to ease lunch screening.
Last month, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic board enabled individual schools to cancel Pizza Day fundraisers if they had students with allergies like dairy or gluten.
“With these things, it’s usually best to try to come up with a compromise,” said Paul Keith, head of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. “You want to keep everyone safe and you don’t want to exclude anyone.”
Keith noted that schools can accommodate students by substituting foods, like offering dairy-free pizza. As for fears of children forcing nuts down classmates’ throats, Keith said schools should prevent such events from even occurring.
Keith’s group is among five Canadian organizations that launched the website Allergy Safe Communities in 2010, with guidelines for parents, workplaces and governments.
Its recommendations for schools include making staff and students allergy-aware, and developing individual emergency plans for children with allergies.
“We encourage people to put risk into perspective, and look at what needs to be done in terms of that risk,” said Beatrice Povolo, a spokeswoman for Anaphylaxis Canada.
The organization, which also contributed to the Allergy Safe Communities website, was instrumental in establishing allergy-safe legislation in Ontario and other provinces.
In 2005, the Ontario government enacted Sabrina’s Law, requiring all school boards implement allergy prevention programs, regular anaphylaxis training and a stock of EpiPens.
The act, the first in North America, is named after Sabrina Shannon, a Pembroke, Ont. high school student who died of anaphylaxis at age 13.
Shannon passed out in her school’s office in 2003 after eating cafeteria French fries that were contaminated by tongs with a trace amount of cheese curds. She had an EpiPen in her backpack but wasn’t able to speak, and died the next day in hospital.
Around two per cent of Canadian teenagers have severe allergies, and the number of Canadians reporting food allergies has increased in the past two decades.
For Povolo, implementing allergy polices not only lowers risk; people become more aware of building allergy-safe environments.
“There’s a huge need for training at schools, and it starts with informing students about prevention and symptoms.”
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