Many Summer Camps Unprepared for Allergic Campers

By Lisa Rapaport

December 12, 2019

(Reuters Health) - Although most summer camps welcome kids with food allergies, they often don't ask these campers to provide individualized emergency plans as a requirement for attendance, a U.S. study suggests.

Researchers surveyed 559 leaders at 258 summer camps about food allergy policies, training, medication availability, anaphylaxis events, and confidence in staff to recognize and treat anaphylaxis.

Overall, 95% of survey participants said they had kids with food allergies attending their camps. But only 48% required campers with allergies to have individualized emergency action plans developed by a clinician as a condition of attendance.

"Preparedness is key - every child with a history of food allergy should have an emergency action plan," said Dr. Natalie Schellpfeffer of the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, the study's lead author.

"These plans should be formulated within the child's medical home, which is comprised of the child's primary care doctor, allergist, and parents," Dr. Schellpfeffer said by email.

In the study, 24% of participants said they had treated anaphylaxis with epinephrine within the previous two years at their camp. These respondents were more than twice as likely to have training sessions for staff on recognizing and responding to anaphylaxis.

One third of camp leaders, however, were not confident that their staff could manage anaphylaxis, and 16% said they weren't satisfied with their training materials.

These results suggest that camps need more complete food allergy polices and more thorough training tailored for summer camp environments and staff, the study authors conclude in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

"As awareness of food allergy trickles over from schools to camps, it is clear that the camp environment offers a unique set of risks," said Dr. Steve Handoyo of the University of Chicago.

"It is critical that parents are aware of these risks, such as staff potentially being teenagers themselves, with less awareness of individual conditions due to rapid turnover of campers," Dr. Handoyo, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email. "Food preparation will also differ from schools and homes, there may be less available staff trained to treat, and remote location may hinder ready access to hospitals."

Parents should talk to camps in advance to discuss their child's allergy and precautions needed, advised Dr. Ruchi Gupta, director of the Center for Food Allergy & Asthma Research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

"They can review their action plan and medications with the camp staff and make sure everyone is trained on how to recognize a reaction and how to treat it," Dr. Gupta advised.

SOURCE: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, online November 23, 2019.