This morning, SRxA’s Word on Health salutes the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario, for its pioneering lead in anaphylaxis safety. Hamilton is destined to become the first city in the world to require all food service outlets to have life-saving epinephrine auto-injectors on hand for people with severe food allergies.
The move is being led by Hamilton Councillor – Lloyd Ferguson, in hopes of avoiding sudden and tragic deaths like one this past spring of a Stoney Creek girl.
Twelve-year-old Maia Santarelli-Gallo had what her doctor said was a mild allergy to eggs and milk that had only ever caused her a runny nose. But last March, while eating an ice cream cone at a Hamilton-area mall with her father and older sister, Maia experienced a sudden, severe allergic reaction.
Her sister found someone with an epinephrine injector, but by the time it was administered, it was too late. Emergency crews took Maia to hospital but she was pronounced dead.
When Councillor Ferguson heard about Maia’s death, he decided to draft a ground-breaking motion to get epinephrine auto-injectors in every restaurant and mall in the city.
He says it’s high time that food providers have access to medicines that could help their customers who develop allergic reactions. He says if automated external defibrillator (AEDs) are now being installed in arenas and other community centers, it makes sense to have epinephrine injectors in areas where food allergy reactions are most likely to occur.
“It took us about 40 years to get defibrillators into public facilities and they have been a great success. This is the next step,” he says.
Allergy specialist Dr. Mark Greenwald, Allergist, and Chief Medical Officer of EpiCenter Medical would like to go further and see public awareness campaigns that would train the public on how to use epinephrine injectors, just as there have been campaigns encouraging people to learn CPR.
Greenwald has developed an online course called EpiPenTraining.com, to offer training on how to recognize allergic reactions, and how to use the injectors. He says such training is vital because during anaphylaxis, seconds count.
And anaphylaxis isn’t rare. Allergic disease is the 5th most prevalent chronic disease among all ages, and the 3rd most prevalent among children. Every 3 minutes in North America, a food allergic reaction sends someone to the Emergency Room. Every 6 minutes, that Emergency Room visit is for anaphylaxis, that’s 10 patients per hour!
In 25% of people requiring treatment, the reaction is their first episode, and they are completely unprepared. And for 50% of the people who die from anaphylaxis, the victims had life-saving epinephrine, but it wasn’t used or it wasn’t used in time. The other 50% didn’t carry epinephrine despite their previous allergic episodes.
Participants in the online course become SAVE certified – Save Anaphylaxis Victims in an Emergency.
Debbie Bruce of the Canadian Anaphylaxis Initiative was part of a program this past spring to get epinephrine injectors on all fire trucks in Mississauga. She says that like Maia, up to one-third of people who have allergic reactions outside the home did not realize they had a severe allergy and didn’t carry an epinephrine injector. She is now petitioning politicians to come up with a national allergy plan.
“I think it is a new reality,” she says. “Reactions happen and we need to be prepared.”
Maia’s mother, Leah Santarelli, backs all efforts to make the public more aware of anaphylaxis and hopes the Hamilton city council passes Ferguson’s motion.
“There’s no guarantee that an EpiPen will save your life 100 per cent of the time, just like a defibrillator won’t save you 100 per cent of the time, but it is there as a safety measure,” she says.
The motion is currently being reviewed by the city’s health team; if approved, it should go before Hamilton city council in October.
We certainly hope that it does and that this trend will rapidly spread across the borders. As Greenwald says – every second counts!