• By Todd Luck
  • Posted Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Agencies Come Together to Solve Health Incident at Petree Elementary School

When multiple students at Petree Elementary School suddenly got sick last week, there was a quick response from city, county, and state agencies and a thorough public health investigation that led to the discovery of what caused nausea and vomiting symptoms in over 25 students.

The cause was determined to be multi-fold. First, the consumption of large amounts of a concentrated, fruit-flavored liquid brought from home. which is commonly sold in stores and is usually added to at least 8 to 16 ounces of water. Public Health officials said multiple students ingesting the undiluted liquid along with hot, spicy chips during their lunch and recess period, combined with the sight/smell of other students vomiting, were the factors that caused the students to get sick on their stomach. There was no evidence of any disease or airborne agent involved.

It was a solution to a health mystery that took many agencies working together to accomplish.

“The overall community response to this incident went very well,” said Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Emergency Management Director August Vernon. ”This was an unusual situation but our city, county, and state partners ensured we had a safe and successful response.”

At 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, multiple fifth grade students started experiencing nausea, vomiting, and stomach aches. The school called 911. First responders, school system representatives, and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Emergency Management arrived on the scene. The Forsyth County Department of Public Health and North Carolina Emergency Management representatives were promptly notified and quickly arrived at the school.

Local law enforcement secured the scene.The entire school was evacuated out of an abundance of caution. Students that displayed symptoms were treated onsite by Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and also evaluated by the EMS medical director, and then reunited with their parent or guardian.

Local and regional hazmat teams tested the building for radiation, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and mold hazards before determining the school was safe for reentry. School continued as normal on Thursday, March 21.

Samples of both vomit and liquid stored in a student’s plastic water bottle were taken to the State Public Health Laboratory for testing that showed no evidence of bioterrorism, chemical, or infectious agents present within the samples. The liquid also tested negative for arsenic, beryllium, barium, cadmium, lead, thallium, and uranium.

Public Health officials interviewed students and staff at Petree Elementary School to determine the cause of what had made the students sick. This is a routine, but important step, in a public health investigation.

“Given the number of students who were exhibiting nausea and/or vomiting at the time, we needed to determine if it was a communicable disease outbreak,” said Forsyth County Public Health Director Joshua Swift.“We always have to be prepared for every eventuality in these situations and we’re glad that it didn’t turn out to be something more serious.”

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