Community health nurses train allergy awareness across the district every year

Schools & Students

It’s noon at Charles Dickens Elementary on a late September day, and staff are gathered in the lunchroom to get a refresher course on anaphylaxis and using the epi-pen.

 “There are three A’s of anaphylaxis ­– awareness, avoidance and action,” says community health nurse Cindy Diett. In her presentation to Dickens’ staff, she goes over the signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, the common allergens and how to avoid them, and protocols for when an emergency does arise.

 Anaphylaxis is the sudden and potentially fatal allergic reaction that occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to the presence of a usually harmless substance. The most common allergens are milk, nuts, eggs, seafood, food additives, insect stings and bites, and medications. Approximately 300,000 Canadian children under the age of 18 have food allergies.

Following a framework developed by the Ministry of Education for districts across the province, Diett and her colleagues from Vancouver Coastal Health fan out across the city each fall to ensure staff at every school are as prepared as possible to handle life-threatening allergic reactions. Besides anaphylaxis awareness and epi-pen training, community health nurses provide a range of instructional sessions throughout the year on a variety of medical issues including seizure training and use of the GlucaPen for diabetic emergencies.

At Dickens, Diett graphically demonstrates how to use the epinephrine auto-injector or epi-pen, repeatedly striking the training device into her thigh. She also identifies at-risk students in the school and reviews particular plans for each child.

“How do we know if we need to give a second dose?” asks one teacher. “Will we know if the injector has functioned properly?” asks another staff member. “Sometimes a kid with no history of allergies will react to something. Are we putting ourselves at risk ethically if we decide to use an epi-pen?” asks a third.

Diett reminds the group that answers to questions like these and many more can be found at “The site’s 30-minute comprehensive, free course is a great resource for anyone who just wants to review the important information,” she says.

Posters up in each classroom and in the hallways alert everyone in the school to be aware of allergens. All families in a class with a child who has allergies receive letters home explaining best practices for keeping that youngster safe. There are specific memos on file for each student with an allergy in the binders maintained by all classroom teachers.