School rash still puzzling

MANASSAS — The cause of an outbreak of rashes remains a mystery at Marsteller Middle School in Manassas, however research of newspapers and school systems throughout North America revealed they have occurred at other schools where health officials have yet to determine the source.

It has been almost two months since an unexplained rash plagued more than 300 Marsteller Middle School students and staff members and the cause of the itchy, red skin irritation remains a puzzle.

Prince William County school and health officials are awaiting final medical test results on what may have caused the rashes at Marsteller. Optimistic school and health officials did not want to comment on whether they would ever get definitive answers.

However, other school systems never got answers.

Seventeen students at a middle school in Cortland, Ohio, were sent home in late November after experiencing red, itchy skin rashes on their arms, necks, and chests, according to the Tribune Chronicle, a local newspaper in Warren, Ohio. The rashes disappeared after two days and health officials never determined the cause.

For several weeks in September and October, 60 students at an elementary school in Sylvania, Ohio, experienced mysterious rashes and test results were inconclusive.

According to news reports in Canada, an elementary school in Ontario was closed for a week in February 2001 after about 60 students and staff members experienced a mysterious rash. Students at St. Noel Chabanel in Wasaga Beach, Ontario, continued to experience rashes throughout the end of the school year.

In all cases, similar to Marsteller, health officials gave schools a clean bill of health, stating that there were no health hazards in the schools environment.

Fifth disease, a common childhood rash disease, which may infect up to 60 percent of a schools population in school outbreak, was initially suspected in all the cases. But medical tests proved otherwise.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control told parents a mysterious rash experienced by a second grade class at Saxe Gotha Elementary in Lexington, S.C., in 1999 may have been psychological, according to The State, a newspaper in Colombia, S.C.

Health officials said the itching that beset one second-grade class at Saxe Gotha may have been sociogenic: a medical term for when a group develops symptoms after observing them in one or more people in a group.

Prince William school and health officials have narrowed their search for what caused the Marsteller rashes to a viral infection. However, initial blood tests searched for several different viruses and found none.

Dr. Jared Florance, director of the Prince William Health District, said serology tests were conducted on blood samples. The final reports, which take several weeks to process, aim to track antibodies in the blood that may have been created to ward off a virus.

Florance did not wish to speculate on whether the school system would get answers.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta does not track the frequency of unexplained rashes, according to Bernadette Burden, a spokeswoman for the CDC.

“Its just one of those phenomenons,” Burden said.

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