CDC Probes Mystery Rashes In
School Kids In 14 States

By Emma Hitt, PhD

ATLANTA (Reuters Health) - State and local health departments in 14 states have been investigating unexplained rashes among US schoolchildren since October of last year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC said the cause of the rashes is unknown, and that "further investigation is needed to determine whether a common [cause] for these rashes exists."
The number of children affected in each state ranges from less than 10 to about 600, they report.
In the March 1st issue of the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC describes investigations taking place in 4 of the 14 states: Indiana, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Connecticut.
According to the CDC, the first rashes were reported on October 4, 2001 in Indiana. Since then, most cases have been seen in elementary school students, although "a few teachers and school staff have been affected but rarely parents or siblings."
Although the characteristics vary, the CDC describes the rashes as generally consisting of reddened spots on the face, neck, hands or arms, sometimes in a network-like pattern. The rashes have lasted from "a few hours to 2 weeks," and in most cases were very itchy.
None of the children, according to the CDC report, showed signs of illness beyond the rash.
In Indiana, rashes appeared in 18 third-grade students at an elementary school of 390 students.
In Pennsylvania, approximately 575 cases of rashes have been reported since the end of January from 58 schools and child-care centers. "Environmental investigations at five schools have not yet identified an environmental source of the rashes," CDC experts note.
In February, in southwestern Oregon, rashes were reported in 53 children and 11 adults at an elementary school of 589 students. Rashes were also reported in 84 children and 7 adults at a middle school in the northwest part of the state.
According to the CDC, "no known links existed between the two schools." But they point out that "in both schools, rash improved in several children when they left school but recurred when they returned to school."
On February 20, in Connecticut, nine fourth-graders from a school of 253 students were reported with rashes and 16 more children were identified the next day.
A dermatologist examined three of the children and attributed the rashes to an "allergic reaction to an environmental exposure," but the exact cause is still under investigation, according to the report.
"To date, reports from states do not document a common cause or demonstrate that all children are experiencing the same rash," CDC researchers write.
"State and local health departments, in collaboration with CDC, continue to investigate these and other reports of rashes among groups of schoolchildren," they conclude.
SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2002;51:161-164.

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