SAN CARLOS CITY - More than 100 elementary school students were taken to a hospital here for suspected food poisoning after they took a fruit-flavored chewing gum, a health official here said.
Dr. Policarpio Manuel, director of the Pangasinan Provincial Hospital (PPH), said the children and their parents started arriving at the hospital around 10 a.m. on Thursday, throwing the hospital's emergency room into a pandemonium as parents gripped by panic pleaded for medical attention for their children.
Manuel said the children, all students of the Guelew Elementary School in Barangay Guelew here, were weak and complaining of stomach pain.
"We had to declare 'code blue,' which means all doctors and nurses were called to help," he said.
Supt. Ferdinand de Asis, provincial police spokesperson, said the children began showing symptoms at 9 a.m. after taking the chewing gum they bought from sari-sari stores near the school.
Christopher Macasias, a teacher, said after attending the school's flag ceremony, the students went to class holding similar boxes of chewing gum in different flavors.
When they started vomiting and complaining of abdominal pain, the teachers called for jeepneys to take them to the PPH.
"We looked at the candies and these were discolored, stinking and tasted bitter. When we looked at the boxes, the expiration dates were scratched out," Macasias said.
The children bought the boxes of chewing gums for P2 each, "which was surprising because I know that [this brand of candy] costs around P30 each box," he said.
"The students may have been attracted by the colorful packaging [of the gum] and its low price," Macasias said.
De Asis said 65 children were put under observation at the PPH while 45 others were admitted for treatment. Three others were confined at Virgen Milagrosa Medical Center here.
Krisel Rosario, a Grade 4 pupil, said a classmate prodded her to buy the chewing gum because it was delicious. She said she bought a box and shared its contents with her classmates.
Dr. Edwin Guinto, San Carlos City health officer, said samples of the chewing gum would be submitted to the provincial health office for laboratory tests.
Yolanda Sotelo and Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon