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NEEDLE-PRICKING PRANK A BIG WORRY AS ONE PUPIL STUCK IS HIV-POSITIVE

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 youngsters 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 on Thursday, several parents attending said they had 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.

"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.

"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."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of HIV infection after a needle stick is low, with an average of one in 300 cases leading to infection.

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 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 students at breakfast time, authorities said.

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."

The teacher took a sick day Thursday.

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