10 kids hospitalized due to spicy gum used in TikTok challenge

Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 3:45 AM EDT
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ORANGE, Mass. (WGGB/Gray News) - Ten children at a Massachusetts elementary school were rushed to the hospital after they came into contact with spicy bubble gum, which officials say is part of a viral TikTok challenge.

Kathleen Woodard received a call Tuesday to pick up her 9-year-old son, Michael, from Dexter Park Elementary School in Orange, Massachusetts, after he ate an unknown food. She found him at the school, vomiting.

WGGB reports it was determined that several students, including Michael, were having a reaction to an extremely spicy bubble gum brought to recess by a student. The gum contains pepper extract measuring at 16 million Scoville heat units. It nearly equates eating pepper spray, according to Orange Fire Chief James Young Jr.

“It was something that you see in, like, a horror movie. Honestly, it just kind of felt like these kids had been under attack,” Woodard said. “They walked in, and kids were crying. They were just lined up down the hall in the front hall area. Their hands were red, their faces were beet red and they were crying, saying it hurt. Some of them were a deep red.”

At least 10 students were hospitalized in the incident, which officials say they have never seen before in western Massachusetts.

“Nobody knew what they were dealing with. Nobody had heard of this. The doctor[’s] fingers started burning from examining him. My arms were itching and burning,” Woodard told WGGB.

Michael wore gloves for the rest of the night until the burn wore off. He was able to return to school Wednesday.

Young said the gum “can cause skin irritation, as well as respiratory and airway inflammation.”

One parent, who did not want to be featured on camera, told WGGB her daughter was one of the six children taken to the hospital in an ambulance. She said her daughter only smelled the gum, and her cheeks were extremely red and swollen. The girl returned home from the hospital Tuesday afternoon.

“A little crazy,” said fourth grader Liam Ellis. “I got a little scared about all of it.”

Liam was not offered any of the gum, something his mother, Mallory Ellis, is grateful for.

“Liam has food allergies, so it’s a really scary thing for me that he possibly could have eaten something he wasn’t supposed to have,” she said.

The Southborough Police Department identified the gum involved as CaJohns Trouble Bubble Bubble Gum in a Facebook post. The gum is reportedly used in a TikTok challenge where contenders try to blow a bubble, despite the gum’s heat. It is sold at popular online retailers, including Amazon.

Officials say that it is important that conversations take place between parents and children about these kinds of situations.

“Kids are curious, and they are going to investigate things like this but not to bring things like this to school,” Young said. “Don’t share products amongst each other, and if you see something, say something to the adults that are in charge of the school, so they can prevent something like this from happening.”

Woodard encourages parents to check their kids’ online search history.

“Parents really need to be OK with monitoring what their children are seeing... because they may not know. Really, any child could make any decision. Nobody deserves this. You know, they were kind of blindsided,” she said.

Police say the school is handling the investigation. In a statement, the superintendent said that appropriate disciplinary action will be taken upon the completion of the investigation.

The packaging for the gum says it was manufactured for CaJohns Foods, LLC and lists a website where the gum can be purchased.

Both the packaging and website contain warnings about the product that say, among other things, that it is extremely dangerous, should not be consumed by children and contains pepper extract that “should be handled with extreme caution.”

The gum was designed for the kind of challenge that police say it is being used for on TikTok.