By Alexandra Sifferlin
November 7, 2014
TIME Health
For more, visit TIME Health.

Schools that stockpile emergency epinephrine—like EpiPens—can save the lives of students with food allergies. One city seeing success with their stockpile is Chicago, found a new study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting.

In 2010, a seventh grade Chicago girl died after having an allergic reaction to Chinese food brought into the school. The school had no EpiPens on site, and the girl died at the hospital. The incident shook the school district into transformation, and Chicago’s school district is now one of the first among large urban centers to implement formal policies on epinephrine stocks.

The new study looked at emergency stocks of epinephrin in Chicago Public Schools during the 2012-13 school year for severe anaphylactic emergencies. Emergency epinephrine was used on 38 children and adults for the academic year.

“I was definitely surprised by that number,” says study author Dr. Ruchi Gupta of Northwestern University. “We found that over 50% of those kids had no known allergy. A lot of the younger kids may be trying foods for the first time. That is something we do worry about.”

MORE: The Bacteria That May One Day Cure Food Allergies

Food allergies among children appear to be rising, and currently about 1 out of every 13 children has a food allergy. That’s about two kids per classroom.

In Gupta’s study, the majority of the reactions occurred in grade schools, but about 37% happened in high schools. The most common allergens were peanuts and fin fish, like salmon or tuna, but the causes of about 34% of the reactions were unknown. In 76% of the reactions, a nurse administered epinephrine.

Currently 41 states have laws regulating the stock of epinephrine—an imperative that’s needed across the country, the study authors say.

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