updated 11/14/2008 5:27:30 AM ET 2008-11-14T10:27:30

At least six teenagers died from suspected food poisoning after drinking sour milk at their boarding school in eastern India, an official said Friday.

Teachers panicked when the students started vomiting Thursday and rushed them to a hospital on the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, said A.K. Basu, the state chief secretary.

The students, aged 12 and 13, initially refused to drink the unpasteurized milk, complaining to a school administrator that it had soured, Basu told The Associated Press.

But the official, Ram Jaleswar Sahu, encouraged them by drinking some himself. Sahu also became sick and was hospitalized, Basu said.

In addition to the six who died, 65 students were sickened. Most were sent home after being cleared by doctors, but 21 remained in a hospital, Basu said.

Milk seized for investigation
The milk was provided unpasteurized from a local dairy, and police seized samples of the milk as part of an investigation, Basu said. Unpasteurized, or raw milk — banned in several countries — does not undergo heating aimed at destroying bacteria and other pathogens, but it is commonly sold in India.

Nearly 1,000 people, including the parents and relatives of the school children, took to the streets on Friday and blocked a highway near Ranchi, demanding prosecution of the school management, police said.

There was no indication the milk had been tainted with melamine. Milk contaminated with the industrial chemical has been blamed in the deaths of four Chinese babies and the sickening of thousands more, setting off bans worldwide on dairy imports from China.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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