Mysterious rash spreading in schools

By Leanne Pantone
February 28, 2002

photo by Loren Burton

The cause of the mysterious rash that has been breaking out in various schools throughout the nation still remains unsolved. The rash, which is red in appearance and itchy, bumpy and even burning on the skin, has shown up in seven states, including: New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia.

Schools in Montgomery and Bucks counties have seen the rash develop and spread. Because of the mystery surrounding the rash and the rapid spread of it, many of these schools, such as Spring Ford Middle School and Quakertown and Richland Elementary Schools, have closed for a short period of time during the breakouts.

Once the schools have closed and students are no longer in the building, the rash disappears quickly after, sometimes in only a few hours.

However, precautions have been put into effect to prevent schools in the surrounding areas from being infected and having to shut down.

“Nurses have been keeping vigilant about any rashes,” Terry Quinlan, Lower Merion School District coordinator of health services, said. “We have seen nothing concerning so far.”

As one part of the precautionary measures taken by Lower Merion, the parents are being kept informed. “We sent a letter home to all elementary and middle school parents. Included in that letter was a letter from the Pa. Department of Health about rashes,” Quinlan said. “We also have a rash report. We have been reporting all rashes to the Montgomery County Department of Health.” Quinlan said. “They then have the option of contacting the child’s physician concerning the rash.”

The final measure of precautions in the Lower Merion School District deals with the basic operations of the schools. “The operations department looked into heating and ventilation to make sure all the filters were being replaced,” Quinlan said.

However, not all schools in the area have been implementing such extra provisions. The Tredyffin/Easttown District sees nothing wrong with the current policy and feels it is the best defense the school has. Dawn Zrebiec, school nurse coordinator, explained, “We are taking no special precaution and following our normal procedure. We double checked with our school doctors and they’ve decided that our normal procedure is the best one.”

Districts like Tredyffin/Easttown already have an extensive procedure, which guards against the spread of rashes, not just this mysterious rash, in the schools. “If a student comes in with a rash we try to identify the rash,” Zrebiec said. “We find out whether it’s caused by poison ivy or an allergic reaction or if it’s a children’s sickness like fifths disease or chicken pox, then we deal with that rash.”

Zrebiec further explained that if the rash was unidentifiable, the child was sent home to see his or her physician and then was permitted to come back to school when it was cleared by the doctor.

“This mystery rash comes and goes. It appears very quickly and we haven’t had any cases like that in any of our schools,” Zrebiec said.

The rash that is infecting many children seems to be limited to the elementary and middle schools. Unlike in the middle and elementary schools, there have not been any reported cases in high schools that are linked to this unknown rash.

Unlike the middle and elementary schools, high schools in the area are not too concerned about the rash. Because of that, precautions have not been put into effect to guard against the rash.

“We’re doing nothing,” Edward Monastra, principal of Phoenixville Area High School said. “It’s going to middle and elementary schools and infecting that age group as opposed to high school students. So, we’re just going from day-to-day like we always do.”

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Leanne Pantone

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