NSW kids’ allergies skyrocket

Hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions have skyrocketed across Australia with children under 4 accounting for the highest rise in cases.

The alarming figures have led to calls for mandatory anaphylaxis training of childcare and preschool staff - but have so far been ignored by the federal government.

The national childcare legislation states that only one staff member needs to be trained in anaphylaxis.

Yet state health department data provided to News Corp Australia shows preschoolers make up the bulk of the rise in admissions for allergy reactions.

NSW anaphylaxis hospital admissions have risen over the past five years, from 556 in 2014-15 to 834 in 2018-19. The biggest increase was in the 0-4 age group (up from 98 cases to 130) and the 15-19 age group (up from 56 cases to 108).

A federal government committee this year recommended that all staff in primary and secondary schools receive nationally consistent education and training for recognising and responding to anaphylaxis. But the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport recommendation excluded childcare and early learning centre.

Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A & AA) CEO and co-chair of the National Allergy Strategy (NAS) Maria Said said the education sector cannot afford to leave children and staff exposed.

"From our perspective all the staff should be trained because these staff are helping with feeding of the child, they need to be able to make decisions on food for the child, they need to be able to recognise an allergic reaction, know how to respond to it, know how to give the EpiPen and so forth," Ms Said said.

"And not just for the child's sake but even for the sake of the staff; having only one person trained places a lot of responsibility on that one person."

Centre for Food and Allergy Research shows that in Australia food allergy affects 10 per cent of children up to one year of age, eight per cent of children up to five years of age, and approximately two per cent of adults.

The most common triggers for allergies in children are egg, cow's milk, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat.

Allergist Dr Raymond Mullins said the surge in food allergies was linked to a mix of genetic and environmental influences.

"Risk factors associated with a higher risk of food allergy include eczema, perhaps low vitamin D in the first year of life (but there are conflicting studies for and against), and delayed introduction of common allergenic food such as dairy, egg and peanut," he said.

"There may be other environmental and genetic influences as well - food allergy is much more common in children born in Australia with Asian parents than in children born in Asia with Asian parents."

'THEY DIDN'T EVEN KNOW'

It takes less than an hour for Darius Bonne to react to wheat, barley, rye and tree nuts.

The four-year-old has suffered two anaphylaxis episodes while in childcare this year.

The most recent was on October 5 when he ate a "wheat-free muffin" made on site that contained wheat.

And earlier in May, he had an allergic reaction after ingesting wheat pasta and meatballs containing wheat breadcrumbs while in care.

Staff at the centre all have allergy and anaphylaxis training but his mother, Margaux Bonne, said on both occasions the staff were unable to recognise whether her son was having an allergic reaction.

Anthony Bonne, Sebastian, Darius and Margaux Bonne. Picture: Brett Morris, Crossroad Media
Anthony Bonne, Sebastian, Darius and Margaux Bonne. Picture: Brett Morris, Crossroad Media

Instead, Darius had to wait for his mother to arrive to give him the EpiPen before he was rushed to hospital for observation.

Mrs Bonne said her son's case is why Australia needs to mandate a nationally-recognised program.

"Not all of them have done the extra training and I just feel like the more training they do the more they have a better understanding, because (both times) they didn't even know that Darius was going through an anaphylaxis reaction," she said.

The federal Department of Health said the Health Minister welcomes the Standing Committee's findings from the Inquiry and will carefully consider the report and recommendations.

"The Australian Government response to the recommendations, including recommendation 19, is currently being prepared and will be tabled in due course," a Department of Health spokesperson told News Corp.

The federal Department of Education said: "This is a matter for state and territory health authorities."

A spokeswoman for the committee said it cannot comment on the report.

 

Originally published as Sydney kids' allergies skyrocket

Food allergy sufferer Darius, 4, with mother Margaux Bonne. Picture: Matt Houston.
Food allergy sufferer Darius, 4, with mother Margaux Bonne. Picture: Matt Houston.