Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dangers of nut allergies stressed

Parents seek precautions for children

Express Staff Writer

Certain Blaine County students attend school each day facing potentially life-threatening nut allergies. Parents of these students are launching an educational campaign to alert parents, students, teachers and administrators of the severity of their children's allergies.

"We send our kids to school every day, knowing that their teachers, administrators and peers are taking care of them," said Ann Nosworthy, of Ketchum.

During the holiday season, when nut-laden treats abound, more care is needed for these children.

"The less nut products that go into school, the safer for the kids," Nosworthy said.

Nuts allergies are often associated with peanuts, although most allergies include intolerance to all nuts, including pecans, walnuts and cashews, and foods containing nut products, like peanut butter, cookies and granola bars.

Contact with nuts puts students with nut allergies at a risk for anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Children with nut allergies experience severe immune system responses when they eat, touch or inhale nut products.

"The element that is so hard to deal with is airborne transmission. It is more of a problem than ever because nuts are in more food than ever," Nosworthy said.

If a student cracks a nut or breaks a granola bar, proteins are released into the air. When a student with a nut allergy inhales the proteins, they can experience a severe reaction that requires medical attention.

One Blaine County student has experienced 13 airborne reactions since September 2004, during the school day. Outside of school, during the same time period, the student has experienced only one reaction.

The number of Blaine County School District students with nut allergies is apparently on the rise.

"I have definitely seen the increase," said Nancy Porterfield, senior public health nurse for South Central District Health. South Central District Health contracts with the Blaine County School District to provide health services.

Porterfield said that nine years ago she knew of two students in the school system with the allergies. This year she said 13 Blaine County students have nut allergies, as do two other home-schooled students.

No cure exists for the food allergy, so parents, students and educators must be aware of the causes of the allergic reactions.

"School is especially hard because of the sheer numbers of people and the amount of food," Nosworthy said.

Parents, students and teachers can minimize the risks for students if they:

· Wash hands thoroughly after contact with nut products.

· Avoid bringing nuts and nut products to school.

· Brush teeth after consuming foods with nuts.

· Do not wear clothes that have come in contact with nut products.

The Blaine County School District does not have a districtwide policy regulating nuts in the school. At the elementary level, schools provide a "nut-free" table to accommodate students. Last week, Wood River Middle School Principal Fritz Peters sent a letter to parents, teachers, staff and students to remind the community to raise awareness and empathy.

"These kids just want to be like everybody else going to school. They just want to get through the school day," said Lorie Hayes, of Hailey.

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