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Gaps need closing for young children with allergies

Tuesday, 08 October 2019

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An Edith Cowan University survey of Australian early childhood education centres has found worrying gaps in allergy management practices for children.

The new research, led by Professor Amanda Devine from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, surveyed 494 centres across Australia (excluding WA) and found that:

  • Almost 40 per cent of Australian centres store EpiPens in locked, hard-to-access locations.
  • Almost one in 10 centres do not require staff to undertake anaphylaxis training, in contravention of federal legislation.

Adrenaline (epinephrine) via an adrenaline autoinjector such as EpiPen, is the first line treatment for anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that can result in death if not treated quickly.

Professor Devine said while the overall picture showed most centres had good practices in place, even small gaps warrant concern and attention.

“The overall picture is that most centres we surveyed have good practices in place, but there is certainly work to be done to make sure that all centres comply with appropriate policies to best protect children with food allergy, who are in their care,” she said.

“When it comes to anaphylaxis every second counts, so it is vital that EpiPens are stored in locations that are easily accessible to staff, but out of reach of children, and that staff are trained in their use.”

Dr Devine said it was important to note that the rapid rise in the number of Australian children that have food allergies posed a challenge for early childhood education centres.

“We know that 11 per cent of Australian infants have a food allergy, which is significantly higher than a decade ago,” she said.

State by state

Victorian centres performed best in the survey, being significantly less likely to store EpiPens in locked locations compared to Queensland and New South Wales.

Queensland and New South Wales centres were also significantly less likely to provide anaphylaxis management training for their staff, compared to Victoria.

Informing national policy

National Allergy Strategy Manager Sandra Vale, who also contributed to the research, said the data showed there are gaps in the legislation governing food allergy management in the sector.

“The current requirement for staff who must undertake anaphylaxis training is inadequate and there is currently no requirement for food preparation staff to undertake food allergen management training,” she said.

“Managing food allergies in this setting is not easy and early childhood education and care services need guidance and support to help them to put effective risk minimisation strategies in place.

“While EpiPens being stored in a locked location is concerning, what we really need to do is ensure that all staff are provided with good, evidence-based training around allergies and food handling so we can avoid the need to use EpiPens at all.”

‘Food Allergy Management in Early Childhood Education and Care Services in Australia’ was recently published in Wiley.

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