By MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention want to know whether mysterious rashes that have afflicted hundreds of youngsters in more than a half-dozen states are somehow related -- and more widespread than previously thought.
Acting on media reports, the CDC this week asked health officials in all 50 states for information on possible rash outbreaks in their schools.
"There are some CDC dermatologists and other CDC personnel who are looking at the various rashes to see if there are some commonalties," agency spokeswoman Rhonda Smith said Thursday.
Students in Pennsylvania, Oregon, New York, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Washington state have complained about rashes on the face, arms, legs and body in recent months. For the most part, the rashes go away when the students leave school.
So far, CDC has heard back from officials in Oregon, Indiana, New York, Georgia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, said spokesman Llelwyn Grant.
CDC investigators plan to interview dermatologists, pediatricians and nurses who examined the affected children, he said.
Some health investigators suspect some of the rashes might be caused by a new or yet-to-be-identified virus. Most school systems have ruled out an environmental cause, although a school district in Washington state found abnormally high levels of dust, dandruff and skin particles.
The red, itchy rash has temporarily closed schools, worried parents and frustrated school administrators.
In the Quakertown Community School District in suburban Philadelphia, nearly 200 students developed rashes at all nine schools. Test results came back negative this week for bacteria, mold and spider mites.
"All environmental test results have been completed. All are negative," the school district reported on its Web site.
Georgia and Indiana both told CDC about minor outbreaks.
In October, 17 students at Waverly Elementary School in Waverly, Ind., developed rashes. Yet by the time state health investigators got to the school, the rashes were gone. A cause was never found.
"Their little faces were so smooth when (workers) got there," said Margaret Joseph, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Health.
In Georgia, "there was one situation in a school that passed rather quickly and didn't affect a lot of people," said Barbara Joye, spokeswoman for the Division of Public Health. Nevertheless, the CDC "asked that people in the states cite anything that might be related.
Grant said the Georgia case involved one student who came down with eczema -- a common skin condition -- followed by two or three other students who exhibited phantom symptoms.(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)