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ELEMENTARY PUPILS Needle pokings cause HIV scare



Published: Sat, April 30, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A child used a diabetes testing kit to poke several children, one of whom is HIV-positive.

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

PHILADELPHIA -- The case of a needle-wielding youngster pricking some 16 to 19 pupils at a Philadelphia elementary school earlier this week has turned into a nightmare for parents and children after one of the children poked was revealed to be HIV-positive.

Now parents are furious. And scared.

Although district officials would not confirm it during a community meeting at Taylor Elementary School Thursday, several parents attending said they'd been notified by medical staff at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children that one of the poked children was infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

Hospital personnel called the already-jittery parents back to the hospital Thursday morning for more testing because of the unexpected finding.

"I was told ... one of the kids tested was HIV-positive," said Martha Adorno, adding that she had mentioned this at the closed-to-the-media meeting. District chief executive Paul Vallas and other representatives from the district and the Health Department attended the meeting.

"You're telling me no," Adorno said, referring to the "no comments" at the meeting. "The whole hospital is telling me a kid was tested HIV-positive."

Preventive medicine

Some pupils have already begun taking a combination of medicines -- 100 mg of Retrovir (or AZT, an HIV-treatment) and 150 mg of Epivir (HIV and hepatitis treatment) in addition to a stomach protector -- to prevent the onset of the virus. One of the victims, George Whitaker, 10, reported having felt dizzy from the meds, and another, Jonathan Rodriguez, also 10, said he had vomited from the cocktail.

Jonathan's mother, Maritza Ponce, said: "He's asking me what does the word AIDS mean, and I don't know how to explain to him what does it mean. As a mother, it hurts to explain to a son why they are saying why he might have AIDS."

Meanwhile, the girl who started all the trouble has been suspended from class and likely will be transferred to another school, for her own protection, Vallas said.

On Wednesday morning, she brought in her mother's pin-prick, 2 mm in length and used for diabetes-related blood-testing, and began poking other pupils at breakfast time, Vallas said.

"She came up and poke me for no reason on my arm," said George Whitaker, who was doing a writing exercise when he was attacked.

George's aunt Marisol Rivera said the girl "was asking kids if they wanted to get poked." Rivera said that her daughter had been asked by the girl but that she responded, "Get out of my face."

Two of Mike Gonzalez's children were pricked by the girl, whose name was not released.

Gonzalez said his 10-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter had been tested and were now "afraid," he said.

Vallas and the others in attendance at the meeting tried to reassure the parents.

"How can you say 'don't worry.' Somebody tested positive for HIV," Gonzalez said. "How can you tell us just to calm down, don't worry about it."

After the meeting, Vallas told reporters: "I'd be frustrated and angry, too, if this happened, regardless of the explanation given."

School's slow reaction

Angry parents complained earlier that they had not been notified immediately of the prickings and that school officials had dragged their feet in getting the children medical attention.

Vallas acknowledged the delay, saying that while the first child was likely poked before 8:30 a.m., it wasn't until 12:50 p.m. that the principal was notified.

One parent told the Philadelphia Daily News that after learning of the prickings, the pupils' teacher initially instructed the children to "sit down and be quiet."

Vallas said he was uncertain why it had taken so long to report the first incident. The teacher took a sick day Thursday.




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