July 30, 2013— -- A California teen has died from a severe allergic reaction after accidentally biting into a camp treat made with peanut butter.
Natalie Giorgi, 13, was vacationing with her family at Camp Sacramento in California's Eldorado National Forest Friday when she grabbed a crispy rice treat off of a dessert tray at the campsite, ABC affiliate KXTV reported. It was dark, and Natalie failed to realize that the treat had been made with peanut butter before taking a bite.
"She took every care," Pastor Michael Kiernan of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Natalie's hometown of Carmichael, Calif., told KXTV, bewildered by the unexpected death of a seventh-grader who was well aware of her deadly allergy. "They were really on it all the time."
Natalie quickly spit out the mouthful and alerted her mom, but it was too late. Within 20 minutes, the teen began vomiting and had difficulty breathing, a family friend told KXTV.
"A small amount of peanut, if you're a sensitive person, can be fatal," said Dr. Scott Sicherer, professor of pediatrics and chief of the division of allergy and immunology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "And peanut is a pretty common food, which can be hidden in things, so it's hard to avoid."
Three epinephrine autoinjectors were used in an effort to quell the full-body allergic reaction, according to the family friend, but Natalie went into cardiac arrest. She was rushed to the nearest hospital by ambulance but pronounced dead upon arrival.
"While our hearts are breaking over the tragic loss of our beautiful daughter Natalie, it is our hope that others can learn from this and realize that nut and food allergies are life threatening," Natalie's family said in a statement to KXTV. "Caution and care for those inflicted should always be supported and taken."
One in 20 U.S. children has a food allergy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Peanuts are among the most common food allergens, which also include cow's milk, eggs, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soybeans and wheat. Peanuts are also one of the deadliest food allergens, according to Sicherer.
"Teenagers and young adults seem to be the ones at the highest risk for fatal reactions," he said, noting that a delay in injecting epinephrine can often factor into the tragic outcome. "One of the common themes among children and adults who had fatal reactions is they didn't use the medication in the beginning. And by the time you develop serious symptoms, it can be too late."
Children and teenagers can underestimate the seriousness of the early signs of anaphylaxis, such as itching in mouth and throat, according to Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma clinic and the immediate past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
"Some people just report 'feeling funny,'" Fineman added, noting that it's better to be safe than sorry in the early stages of a severe allergic reaction. "If you think you might need to use epinephrine, go ahead and use it. You're better off taking it and not needing it than not taking it and needing it."
Neither Fineman nor Sicherer know the details of Natalie's reaction or the emergency response.
Calls to Camp Sacramento, where the Giorgi had vacationed for the past four summers, were not immediately returned. It's unclear whether the treats were provided by the camp or brought by other campers.