Because severe allergies can develop without warning, some experts say schools should stock EpiPens like bandages and other first-aid supplies.
"There are kids who don't know they're food allergic until they get into the food," said Dr. Dan Atkins, head of ambulatory pediatric at National Jewish Health in Denver. "In that situation, it would be good to have an EpiPen available."
A school EpiPen stash could soon be a reality with a proposed bill that would encourage states to adopt laws requiring schools to have EpiPens on hand. The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, proposed in December 2011, would mean EpiPens could be used for any student or staff member in an anaphylactic emergency.
"When it comes to a life-threatening allergic reaction, it's so simple to save that life," said Maria Acebal, chief executive officer of the Fairfax, Va.-based Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, which championed the bill. "I have no doubt that the school where this little girl went had an EpiPen in the office -- it just didn't have Ammaria's name on it."
The bill would include liability protection for school officials who give epinephrine in good faith, Acebal said.
"No one in this country has ever been sued for giving epinephrine, to my knowledge," said Acebal. "All the lawsuits come about because school officials don't give it when it's needed."
In a healthy child, epinephrine can cause a rapid heart rate, nausea and light-headedness -- mild symptoms that wear off in 15 minutes. It would only be dangerous in children born with a congenital heart condition, which school officials would be aware of.
"We need to do a better job of educating the public about the safety of epinephrine," said Atkins. "Because it's an injection, it scares people. And because it's a device, it scares people. But rather than thinking, 'I might kill a kid with this,' they should be thinking, 'I could save a life.'"
Acebal, whose eldest daughter has a food allergy, said her other children learned how to inject epinephrine by age 6.
"If I can teach a 6-year-old to do it, we can teach school staff," she said.
Acebal said having epinephrine on hand in school would give students, staff and parents added peace of mind.
"My heart breaks for Ammaria's family because any parent who has a child with a food allergy knows what it's like to fear that phone call from the school," she said.