More than 100 ill with gastroenteritis symptoms at California middle school: ‘It didn’t feel good, it didn’t feel good at all’

According to the Monterey Herald and KION a bunch of students at Los Arboles Middle School spent a bunch of time barfing yesterday. 110 kids had symptoms including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Enough kids got sick that school nurses called in the health department and fire department as back-up.

To say Los Arboles Middle School student Paradise Williams had a rough morning is an understatement.
"It didn’t feel good, it didn’t feel good at all," says Williams.

The sixth grader was in math class Thursday morning when she felt dizzy, got cramps and started throwing up. The school got so many other students with the same symptoms, it set up a makeshift clinic with nurses in the school’s gym. When Paradise rushed there, 30 other students were already there.

"At the time it was bad," says Williams. "Everyone was around trash cans throwing up holding their stomachs, crying, throwing up, drinking water, throwing up the water."

The amateur epidemiologists cited in the story are guessing that a bad batch of out of date rice is to blame (not so sure on that one -ben).

By the afternoon, that number grew to 110 students. The Monterey County Health Department is investigating what caused the stomach flu. But, several students including Paradise suspect bad rice was served for breakfast at the nearby teen center. That angers Paradise’s mother.

"Are they looking on the dates of their food? Are they taking inventory on the dates? I don’t want this to happen again," says Williams.

But, the school district isn’t confirming that and called today’s sickness "rare."

Rare probably isn’t the right word to use here – acute and messy is probably better – and likely provides little comfort to the barfing tweens and their families. The school folks should be talking about their food safety risk-reduction systems (USDA requires a HACCP-based program for school meals provided under their nutrition program) and the type of stuff they have in place to limit spread (like hand soap in the restrooms).

Thanks to a sharp-eyed barfblog contributor for the tip.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.