Health officials investigate illness

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

EUREKA, Mo. -- Thirty-seven children at a suburban St. Louis grade school were taken to hospitals Tuesday after becoming ill. School and hospital officials said none of the illnesses appeared to be serious.

"They're all going to be just fine," Rockwood School District spokesman Bob Davidson said. "It looks like everything is going to be OK."

The cause of the outbreak at Ralph Blevins Elementary School in Eureka, about 15 miles west of St. Louis, remained a mystery. St. Louis County health inspectors were performing air quality checks.

One thing they were looking at: A custodian sprayed wasp and hornet killer outside a doorway in an area that many of the sick children passed by.

"This is just one possibility at this point," Davidson said. "We don't know if that's what it was. I would say it's one of the prime suspects."

The outbreak began Monday, when five children became ill, including one who was treated and released from a hospital, Davidson said.

School officials checked the building and grounds Monday night but found no cause for alarm.

But after physical education class Tuesday morning on a track at the school, six fifth-graders complained of breathing difficulty, Davidson said. By the time emergency crews arrived, all six were improving but were taken to St. John's Mercy Medical Center as a precaution.

Meanwhile, other children began complaining of problems ranging from difficulty in breathing to irritated eyes. Thirty-one more children were taken by school buses to hospitals, 27 of them to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital.

School remained in session Tuesday, though children were required to stay inside.

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