Sixty students are sick with apparent food poisoning symptoms following Carmi-White County High School’s annual prom on April 8, 2017. Local county and state health officials are in the process of investigating the venue and other nearby restaurants attended by the students in hopes of finding a source of the illnesses. Details continue to come to light as the investigation progresses.
High School Students Are Sick in Indiana and Illinois
State and local health departments have been quiet about the circumstances surrounding this outbreak. It is highly probable that the mystery illnesses are indeed foodborne. But the health agencies recommend the public keep an open mind. An Illinois media outlet reported this week an interview with an unnamed health agent. The agent commented,
“We haven't actually said it was food poisoning. That's just what everyone expects because these kids all attended an event where dinner was served and then all became ill. So you can't make assumptions. You have to do an investigation.”
The symptoms of those who are ill has not yet been released. There has not been media or health agency confirmation of any hospitalizations, but interviewed parents mentioned that at least one student was hospitalized. One such concerned parent, Tim Knight, was interviewed about the illness of his foreign exchange student. He commented that she attended prom of April 8, 2017, and woke up the following Monday with severe illness. “It's kind of disappointing that something like this would happen,” Mr. Knight said.
Additionally, enraged and concerned parents have commented on several Facebook pages, including the main Facebook page for Carmi-White County High School, about their concerns. Speculation that the pre-prom catered meal from the venue is among the prominent discussions. The prom venue, the New Harmony Inn Conference Center, has been following the social media concerns. “Social media is running wild and people are having a field day,” according to the venue’s General Manager Peter Nowotny commented in reference to a possible link between the chicken prepared and served by his staff at prom and the outbreak.
The Prom Venue and Other Suspected Sources
The source of the outbreak and the potential pathogen have not yet been confirmed. The New Harmony Inn Conference Center is steadfast in their position that they are not the source of illness. According to New Harmony Inn Conference Center General Manager Peter Nowotny, “When I first heard it, I contacted the health authorities immediately. I believe if it's really food poisoning you would know within eight hours.”
Nowotny staunchly refuted the blame toward the venue. He was quick to add that 25 of his employees also ate the same food that was served to the students. Allegedly, none of these employees became ill. It is important to note that children, even older children, are at a higher risk for getting foodborne illness symptoms. It may not be a valid argument that 25 adults are not sick.
Despite the refutation, General Manager Nowotny is sympathetic to the parents of the students. He stated during a media interview with WFIE ABC 14, “I realize that the parents are very concerned about the welfare of their children and their loved ones and of course everybody else. And we are equally concerned because our reputation is on the line.” He concluded the interview by stating that the state health inspector inspected the prom venue and determined they could not conclude the venue was the cause of the illnesses. “So far it is inconclusive and basically what they said is we have a mystery on our hands, they're not really sure what it is but somehow they ruled out food poisoning,” he said.
Although the prom itself was held at the New Harmony Inn Conference Center and a pre-prom meal was catered by the venue, it is not the only suspected source. Some prom goers also ate at local restaurants prior to the event. An Indiana restaurant is also considered as a potential source of the outbreak. Health inspectors met with the restaurant owner and conducted an inspection on the location this week. The agency’s report is pending. There are also reports of a post-prom catered after party. Details surrounding these two other suspects are vague. No one location has been implicated for sickening the students. The local health officials have stated that they cannot make any claims about who is to blame until a proper investigation is conducted.
Joint Investigations, Interviews, and Testing
Several county health agencies have joined together with the Illinois health department to investigate the outbreak. A survey has been created in hopes of expediting the process and gathering information in a timely fashion. Egyptian Health Department is among those conducting a survey to try to identify source of the outbreak. According to the agency’s website:
“Egyptian Health Department is investigating complaints of a gastrointestinal illness associated with attending the Carmi-White County High School prom on April 8. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey whether you did or did not become ill after attending this event. Please complete as soon as possible. In addition to completing the survey, Egyptian Health Department would like anyone who became ill and is willing to submit a stool sample for testing to pick up a kit at the Carmi Egyptian Health Department office at 1705 College Avenue. Thank you for your assistance.”
The health agencies are not the only ones conducting a survey. Carmi-White County School followed suit and took to social media to encourage those who attended the event to complete the health department survey. According to their post,
“Public health is investigating complaints of GI illness associated with attending prom on April 8. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey whether you did or did not become ill after attending this event. Additional information regarding this investigation will be included with the survey. Please complete as soon as possible. Thank you for your assistance.”
Health officials are also gathering specimens from hose with confirmed illnesses. They are hopeful that stool samples from those who are ill will help narrow the potential list of sources and identify the pathogen.
If you or your child attended prom at Carmi-White County High School, medical attention is recommended.
Robins Cloud LLP is Helping Victims of this Outbreak
Robins Cloud LLP is a Plaintiffs’ firm dedicated to helping those who have become ill from contaminated food or beverages. We will continue to follow and investigate the details of this outbreak. If you or someone in your family has become ill after attending Carmi-White County High School’s prom, Robins Cloud LLP is available to discuss any questions, concerns, and the legal process with you. You can contact us 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a free, no obligation consultation.