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Allergy kills Virginia girl at school

By Matt Smith and Trisha Henry, CNN
updated 9:35 AM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • First-grader Ammaria Johnson died of a suspected peanut allergy
  • The school called 911 but had no drugs to treat her, firefighters say
  • Keeping kids safe at school takes "education and preparedness," an expert says

(CNN) -- The death of a 7-year-old Virginia girl from a suspected peanut allergy at school has raised questions about how prepared school officials are to handle sudden reactions in children.

First-grader Ammaria Johnson died Monday after breaking out in hives and complaining of shortness of breath at recess. School authorities called paramedics after she was taken to the nurse's office, said Lt. Jason Elmore, a spokesman for the Chesterfield County Fire Department in suburban Richmond.

"From what we understand, she possibly had gotten something outside," Elmore said. The clinic had no medication to give her and called 911, he said.

"It's very straightforward. There is no magic to this," said Maria Acebal, the head of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. "It's just proper education, how to recognize it, and how to treat it."

Acebal said 8% of American kids -- including one of hers -- have food allergies.

Girl with peanut allergy dies at school

"When consequences can be life-threatening, then you've got to have schools prepared for an allergic reaction," she said.

Shawn Smith, a spokesman for the Chesterfield County school district, said administrators have extensive guidelines for treating students with severe allergies, and details of those guidelines were sent to parents last year. Parents have to provide any prescribed medication to the schools, along with a one-page form authorizing them to administer it in case of an emergency, he said.

"When any or all of the resources are not provided, the public health nurse makes contact with the family in an effort to obtain the necessary medication," Smith said in a written statement to CNN.

One common treatment is the use of an epinephrine injector, a penlike device that administers the drug for a severe reaction. Those have to be prescribed by a doctor, and the school had no such device for Ammaria, Elmore said.

The girl's death remains under investigation, Chesterfield County police spokeswoman Elizabeth Caroon told CNN. Caroon said the body has been turned over to state medical examiners for an autopsy, but it was not clear whether that procedure had been performed Wednesday.

"It's absolutely doable to keep kids with food allergies safe at public school, but it requires education and preparedness," Acebal said. Ammarie's death "just underscores the need for all teachers to have the basics of food allergy safety as part of their orientation and continuing education."

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