Rash closes SAD 45 schools

17 years ago

 WASHBURN, Maine – Students of SAD 45 got an unexpected two-day ‘vacation’ last week when several elementary and high school attendees came down with a skin rash.
    The rash was first spotted on a few children in one classroom, leading school officials to believe it might be something in that particular class. Steps were taken to disinfect the area. But as days passed, students from other classes developed a similar condition. By Jan. 31, about 80 elementary and over 40 high school students had come down with a skin rash involving their faces, hands and wrists, or a combination of the three. That was when Superintendent Brooke Clenchy decided to close the school for the remainder of the week as a precautionary measure.
“It began in one room. As days went by, we realized it affected a broader spectrum. It wasn’t limited to one room, one floor or even one building,” said Clenchy.
The school’s nurse, Christine McPherson, said the rash didn’t appear to cause much discomfort and was most likely related to the recent cold weather we’ve been experiencing.
“Dry skin is common this time of year, for both children and adults. The rashes appear to be limited to the area from the knuckles to the wrists and up the forearms, as well as the face – areas often susceptible to exposure this time of year. Students have told me the patches aren’t itchy and don’t burn. The areas affected don’t seem to bother the children much,” said McPherson.
Food has been ruled out as a cause, according to McPherson.
“Food usually causes GI (gastrointestinal) upset. With this, students have been relatively unaffected, with few if any symptoms,” said McPherson.
McPherson indicated the flu has been more of a problem for their schools than has the cases of rash taking place.
“We had about 20 kids out with the flu on Jan. 31,” said McPherson.
Clenchy said the rash was most likely environmental in nature, related to the cold weather, but precautions were being taken while school was closed Thursday and Friday to ensure whatever could be done was being done to address the matter.
“I really feel this has nothing to do with the quality of the air. It’s not respiratory in nature. We’ve just seen little rashes breaking out on the children. By taking a four-day weekend, we hope it will break the cycle of whatever is causing this, if there is even a specific cause,” said Clenchy, who said the matter was hard to handle.
“We don’t want to create panic out there, but at the same time we want to take all the steps we can to prevent this from progressing,” said Clenchy. “There are no concrete answers.”
The school system is looking for ways to help students and staff alleviate weather-related health concerns, including installing moisturizers throughout the buildings.
McPherson said winter is a the most common time of year to see such rashes.
“Whether it’s exposure to the cold outdoors, or contact with things like lotions that may not be used year-round, people are more susceptible this time of year to such exposure. Lotions contain perfumes, chemicals – skin becomes more irritated when it’s dry. This can lead to skin problems,” said McPherson.
Clenchy said although the water doesn’t appear to be an issue, she was having it tested as a precaution.
“I’d rather err on the side of safety,” said Clenchy.
Larry Gervin, an engineer with the Maine Drinking Water Program, said Washburn residents shouldn’t be concerned about their water, since the system is quite new and is tested regularly.
“They’re (the schools) on public water. The public water supply is tested regularly. All tests have been fine. The department has met all state and federal standards. The chances of it being water related is around zero,” said Gervin, noting that chlorine levels are monitored on a daily basis. “The system would shut down if it was over-chlorinated.”
The state’s epidemiologist was notified about the rash. State officials had not responded to requests for information as of presstime.
SAD 32, in Ashland, has not experienced anything similar, according to Cyr Martin, chairman of the School Board.
“We’ve had no reports of rashes in our schools. Most complaints have been flu symptoms or the common cold,” said Martin.
SAD 42, in Mars Hill, also reported no such cases.
“We haven’t had anything like that in our schools. It’s been the usual winter things – colds, flus,” said Fred Boyd, principal at Fort Street Elementary.
But while SAD 1 schools haven’t had any reported rash problems, according to the superintendent’s office, several students have been experience symptoms of noroviruses.
“That’s a group of viruses that cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and some stomach cramping and has had a great impact on schools in southern Maine. Currently there are many students in SAD 1 experiencing these symptoms. This is more commonly referred to as the stomach flu but is unrelated to the seasonal flu (a respiratory illness) and is highly contagious,” said Deb Raymond, Health Services Director.
While students were out, staff took the time to do a thorough job cleaning and disinfecting both facilities. Washburn schools returned to service on Monday, Feb. 4.