Health officials puzzled by outbreak of rashes

Condition afflicts children in Md., other states

cause unknown

March 30, 2002|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

State health officials, investigating the outbreak of a mysterious rash, are sending questionnaires to the parents of Maryland children who recently have developed red, itchy bumps or blotches on their skin.

The condition, which usually disappears without treatment in a few hours or days, showed up in a handful of Talbot County elementary school children about three weeks ago. More recently, doctors have noted about 35 cases in Cecil County. Similar rashes have been reported in about 18 states. Doctors are at a loss to explain the outbreak.

The rashes don't appear to be caused by an infectious disease, and affected children exhibit no other symptoms. It's also uncertain whether the various outbreaks are related. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnoses have included a range of conditions, including poison ivy, eczema and chemical exposure.

In Maryland, Dr. Ross Brechner, state epidemiologist, said the rash appears to be an allergy, similar to hives, that leaves red marks on the hands, elbows and face. Many of the children have been examined by doctors, who diagnosed nothing more than general dermatitis, Brechner said.

"We're concerned about this illness, but so far it's not something that people need to worry about," Brechner said. He said he hopes the questionnaires will yield data that can help scientists find common threads among the affected children. So far, CDC scientists reviewing medical data from around the country say they're turning up more differences than similarities.

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