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Hundreds of South African students hospitalized after chewing expired gum

Two hundred primary school students from a township north of Cape Town sent to hospital after falling ill from chewing expired "energy" gum.

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Eighth-grade Chicago school teacher Patrice Billingsley blows a winning bubble gum bubble during a preview celebration of the Illinois State Fair July 19, 2001 at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago. ( Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Two hundred primary school students in South Africa were hospitalized on Tuesday after chewing "energy" gum that had passed its expiry date.

A few of the students had discovered the gum on a nearby farm and handed it out to other students at Trevor Manuel Primary School in Fisantekraal, a township north of Cape Town, the South African Press Agency reports.

The energy chewing gum, which contained large amounts of sugar and caffeine, had expired, SAPA reports. The gum raised the blood glucose levels of the students too quickly, causing them to vomit and "making them hungry," the news agency said.

According to the International Chewing Gum Association, gum is a "stable product" and "not required by law to be labeled with an expiration date in most countries." Old gum may become brittle or lose its taste over time, but generally remains safe to chew.

It is not clear what type of gum the students were chewing or why it made them sick. The City of Cape Town has sent the gum to a laboratory for analysis.

"The city's health department investigated the matter and samples of the goods were taken for laboratory tests," City of Cape Town spokesman Wilfred Solomons-Johannes said.

According to the school’s website, Trevor Manuel Primary School has more than 1,000 students and is located in an area near Cape Town plagued by poverty and high unemployment levels. The students were taken to four different hospitals in the area.

A report from 2009 in the medical journal The Lancet said that a 13-year-old boy had been hospitalized in Italy after ingesting too much caffeine from chewing energy gum. The boy had reportedly eaten two packs of the gum within a four-hour period at school, ingesting more than three cups of coffee, the Telegraph reports. He had not previously consumed much caffeine.

"The risk of intoxication is high in children and teenagers in view of general caffeine-naivety, and the unrestricted sale of these substances,” Dr. Francesco Natale, from the hospital in Naples where the boy was treated, said at the time.