Illinois elementary students fall ill

Saturday, December 14, 2002

JACKSONVILLE, Ill. -- Public health officials were trying to determine Friday what sickened dozens of Jacksonville elementary school students who fell ill while rehearsing for a Christmas program.

The 74 students complained of dizziness and nausea as they rehearsed at the Jacksonville High School Bowl on Thursday, police and school officials said. Many of the third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders were taken by ambulances to Passavant Area Hospital for treatment of flu-like symptoms. One boy stayed overnight and was released Friday morning.

"I was just dizzy," said student Laura Roth, after fainting. "Everything was kind of blurry."

"I started feeling shivering and cold," Chris Villa said. "I couldn't stop shaking."

The illnesses remained a mystery Friday after tests by the Illinois and Morgan County departments of health, said Richard Basden, superintendent of schools.

"We've ruled out any type of airborne contamination. We've ruled out food and water contamination," he said. Hospital tests did not detect a virus.

Food was ruled out because the students came from Eisenhower Elementary, which has no school breakfast program.

Tests for carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and organic vapors were negative.

"We have no positives, but we have a lot of negatives for things that we would normally look for," said Mark Carr of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

"We will likely survey the area for several days attempting to determine a cause for the illnesses," he said. "Unfortunately, for a lot of these situations, there's never a cause determined."

Jacksonville Police Lt. Neil Snelling said only children got ill, although there were also adults in the area.

Some parents came to the school to remove their children when they heard about the illnesses. Others said they were stunned at the spectacle when they arrived there not knowing what had happened.

"It was absolutely scary," said Kelly Denisar, mother of one sick child. "There was already a reporter there. There was a photographer taking pictures. No one knew what was going on. Kids were on stretchers with oxygen on."

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