- (HealthScoutNews) - Federal health officials are scratching
their heads over a mysterious set of rashes now afflicting schoolchildren
in 27 states. An initial report issued by the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) in March reported outbreaks in 14 states: Arizona,
Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Oregon,
Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
- Since then, another 13 states have joined the list, says
the CDC. The new states are: Alabama, Alaska, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky,
Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, and
New Jersey. Similar rashes have also been reported in Canada.
- Although the number of reported rashes is growing, "there's
still no evidence for a common cause for all of the reports," CDC
spokesman Mike Groutt says. "Investigations have identified causes
for some of the rashes occurring in some of the schools. Regardless of
the cause of the rashes, including those of unknown origin, reports indicate
that they are self-limiting and affected children have few if any accompanying
signs or symptoms."
- No single cause has been identified, and the CDC emphasizes
there's no evidence that all of the rashes are linked. Officials have also
been quick to point out that rashes are common among schoolchildren and
can be caused by a variety of factors. They include medications, dry or
sensitive skin, eczema, allergies, viral infections and environmental factors.
- However, the recent spate of rashes have raised concern
because they've occurred simultaneously in various locales across the nation.
They also began in the wake of Sept. 11 and subsequent anthrax attacks.
- Between October 2001 and May 2002, rashes were reported
among groups of schoolchildren at about 110 U.S. elementary, middle and
high schools. The number of children affected at each school ranged from
five to 274 (or less than 1 percent to 47 percent of the student population).
Girls accounted for varying proportions of the affected -- from 33 percent
to 100 percent.
- The rashes themselves also had varied characteristics.
Most children reported an itchy, sunburn-like rash on the cheeks and arms,
a burning sensation on the skin or a hive-like reaction that moved from
one part of the body to another. They tended to go away on their own, either
within in an hour or sometimes not for more than a month.
- Some states have managed to track down a cause. In New
York, an outbreak among 242 elementary and middle-school students (representing
7 percent of the population of their school district) between January and
April was determined to be the result of parvovirus B19, which causes fifth
disease, an infection of red blood cells. Alaska, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota,
and Mississippi have also had cases associated with parvovirus B19.
- Other outbreaks might be psychogenic -- a response to
seeing another child with a rash.
- For the meantime, the CDC seems to be playing it cool,
emphasizing the rashes do go away on their own and that most children don't
have any other, more disruptive symptoms. The organization "is continuing
to monitor reports of groups of schoolchildren with rashes and is providing
technical assistance to state and local health departments," the researchers
report in tomorrow's issue of the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality