New virus may explain mystery rash appearance

Saturday, February 16, 2002

PHILADELPHIA -- Hundreds of youngsters in at least seven states have broken out in mysterious rashes, and some health investigators suspect it might be caused by a new or yet-to-be-identified virus.

The red, itchy rash appears to be more an annoyance than a serious health threat, but it has managed to temporarily close schools, worry parents and frustrate school administrators, for whom answers have been elusive.

Students in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Oregon and Washington state have complained about rashes on the face, arms, legs and body. For the most part, the rash goes away when the students leave school.

"For something like this to occur almost simultaneously in different parts of the country is, to my knowledge, unprecedented," said Dr. Norman Sykes, who examined about 30 suburban Philadelphia students who came down with the rash this month.

In the Quakertown Community School District, where nearly 170 students at all nine schools were confirmed to have the rash, an environmental company collected air and water samples and examined carpets, floor mats, vacuum bags and clothing, but all tested negative for contaminants.

"We may never know what this thing is," said Quakertown Superintendent Jim Scanlon.

Most school systems have ruled out an environmental cause, but not the Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor, Wash., where more than 50 students and teachers complained about a rash.

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