On Point Against Allergies
UMD Makes EpiPens Available in All Dining Halls
When it comes to food allergies, no matter how careful those on both sides of the plate might be, things can still go wrong. That’s why the University of Maryland recently beefed up its line of defense.
Dining Services added EpiPens—autoinjector devices used to counteract severe, sometimes life-threatening allergic reactions known as anaphalaxis—to all three dining halls last week. A bright yellow box, which blares an alarm when opened, encases a pair of the devices near the automated external defibrillator (AED) at each location; signs at the front doors also advertise that the EpiPens are on site.
“As more and more students come to campus with allergies, sometimes life-threatening, we have to advocate for another safety net,” said Director of Dining Services Colleen Wright-Riva.
About 100 UMD students self-identify as having food allergies. That proportion of the campus population falls below the national average, meaning more probably have allergies they haven’t disclosed, Wright-Riva said. Some of the most common triggers are peanuts, tree nuts, soy, milk, wheat, eggs, fish and shellfish.
Symptoms of someone experiencing a reaction include itching of the mouth or tongue, swelling, closing of the throat, difficulty breathing and hives. EpiPens, which users push into the side of the thigh, inject a premeasured amount of epinephrine into the body, which quickly counteracts symptoms.
“Minutes can be really important in this kind of a situation,” said Dr. David McBride, director of the University Health Center.
But until recently, no state law existed to allow EpiPens, which are a prescription item, to be available at institutions of higher education, so Wright-Riva and McBride worked with UMD’s Office of Government Relations and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, who represents Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, to change that. They testified in Annapolis, and on Oct. 1, House Bill 1473 went into effect.
Wright-Riva and McBride partnered with University Recreation and Wellness to train Dining Services staff in CPR, AED and EpiPen administration using a Red Cross online and in-person program. Around 40 staff members have been trained, with another training session for 20 to 25 more scheduled in coming weeks.
While the EpiPens add a safeguard to the dining halls, Wright-Riva stresses that those with food allergies should still carry their own EpiPens and communicate their needs. Dining Services sends all new-to-campus residential students a welcome box with a card on which they can fill out their dietary information and return. Students can also fill out this form and meet in-person with UMD’s senior executive chef and dietitian.
“One of the things we always do when we meet with students with allergies,” she said, “is remind them we’re in partnership with them.”