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Health Officials: Psycho-Social Illness Sickened 30 Kids at So. Minn. School

Updated: 02/08/2014 7:35 AM
Created: 02/07/2014 5:34 AM KSTP.com
By: Megan Stewart

Springfield Public School reopened Friday after 5th and 6th grade students fell ill while prepping for a band concert. Investigators said one or two kids threw up about an hour into practice Thursday morning.

Shortly after, other kids fell ill with "subjective" symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness and stomachaches, health officials said.

The entire school was evacuated, and the elementary students were taken to Mayo Clinic Health Center in Springfield with symptoms of possible carbon monoxide exposure such as nausea.

A spokesperson for the Health Department, which has been in contact with investigators, said it is most likely a case of mass psychogenic illness, where illness symptoms are felt by a group when only one may actually be sick.

Health officials said the kids recovered quickly.

School officials said they are still working to determine the cause of the incident. Superintendent Keith Kottke said anxiety could have played a role in the suspected social illness.

"It isn’t uncommon for situations to occur where one student becomes ill that others around them may become ill due to anxiety," Kottke said. "What was concerning was the amount of students that fell ill at the same time."

Until the exact cause is determined, Kottke said they are continuing to tentatively treat the mysterious incident as a carbon monoxide leak. However, Kottke adds tests have shown normal CO levels in the students that were transported to the hospital. These tests may have been compromised due to students being administered oxygen during treatment, Kottke said.

Investigators initially suspected a carbon monoxide leak caused the nausea and headaches reported at the school; however, professional readings taken inside the school have been negative for carbon monoxide as of Friday morning.

"The school has completed extensive air quality testing; had our HVAC contractor inspect the function of that system, and added carbon monoxide detection in the school building," Kottke said in a statement.

Burns says by Thursday night, all 30 were treated and released. No one was admitted to the hospital. Students and staff were taken to the Springfield Community Center, where students were to be picked up by parents.

The school superintendent released the following statement:

February 7, 2014

Springfield Public Schools has been cleared for occupancy. Beginning at noon today, Friday, February 7, 2014, students, parents, and staff may reenter the building to pick-up necessary belongings. Homework is considered a necessary belonging.

In consultation with Dan Tranter, Indoor Air Supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Health, the school building has been cleared for occupancy. Test readings for carbon monoxide(CO) levels within the school building continue to remain at 0. Our understanding is that CO levels of 1 or 2 are not uncommon and within a normal range. Additional testing for carbon dioxide, oxygen, and other hazardous chemicals, has been performed throughout the entire building and they have been reported to be a non-factor. Testing has been completed by IEA(Institute for Environmental Assessment), Centerpoint Energy, and the Springfield Fire Department.

The boys and girls basketball game vs. BLHS will go on as scheduled this evening. As added precautions, we will have members of the fire department present with their air quality readers.

In consultation with Mayo Clinic Health Springfield Center lab work results on students that were first transported there yesterday revealed normal CO levels. It isn’t ruled out that this may have been a result from these students receiving oxygen as soon as they did. It isn’t uncommon for situations to occur where one student becomes ill that others around them may become ill due to anxiety. What was concerning was the amount of students that fell ill at the same time.

The school’s response has been to cautiously treat this incident as if it were a result of CO. The school has looked into factors where the affected students may have ridden the same school bus or ate something specific at school breakfast that morning, but no common factor has been found. The school has completed extensive air quality testing; had our HVAC contractor inspect the function of that system, and added carbon monoxide detection in the school building. For added precautions on Monday morning the school will monitor CO in and around the bus drop off zones stop and school buses to rule out any other possible CO source. The school will wait until later next week to re-open the auditorium to allow for further testing as added preventative measures.

Thank you for your help as we try to bring normalcy back into our school community. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Keith Kottke

Superintendent

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo courtesy of KEYC-TV

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