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Original Investigation
October 1984

Outbreak of Itching and Rash: Epidemic Hysteria in an Elementary School

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Internal Medicine, West Virginia University, Charleston (Drs Robinson and Szewczyk); and the West Virginia State Health Department, Charleston (Ms Haddy and Mr Jones) and Madison (Mr Harvey).

Arch Intern Med. 1984;144(10):1959-1962. doi:10.1001/archinte.1984.04400010067012

• Fifty-seven of 159 rural elementary school students had an explosive spread of pruritus and rash—a rarely described manifestation of epidemic hysteria. In a sample of 13 children (23%), each child examined had irregular, macular, erythematous lesions that were excoriated and actively changed during examination. Rash occurred only at sites readily accessible to hands. The symptoms disappeared promptly when the children left school and recurred each morning when they returned. There were no secondary family cases in sample children. School-wide attack rates were higher in girls and younger children. The outbreak resolved after two to three weeks, with identification of its nature and resumption of normal activities. Academic stresses were circumstantially linked to the outbreak.

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