STUDENTS AT Temple University are itching to know what's causing a mysterious skin rash.

Over the past year, there have been 100 to 120 complaints to the university's Student Health Services of a mysterious irritation on the backs of students' legs that causes itching, redness and large bumps, said Mark Denys, senior administrator at the center.

Denys said the rash is a contact dermatitis, but he's not sure of the exact cause.

Some students with the rashes are speculating that they are coming from two wooden benches just north of the turnstile on the southbound side of the Cecil B. Moore subway platform on the Broad Street Line - the stop closest to the school.

"It was disgusting," said Jessica Snyder, 20, a Temple student who developed a rash last fall. "I couldn't even wear shorts because I was so embarrassed."

Snyder said she began to notice the rash minutes after sitting on one of the benches on the subway platform. The backs of her thighs were covered in what initially looked like small bug bites, but progressively got worse. The small "bites" turned into large, inflamed bumps that were each larger than the size of a quarter.

After the rash began to hurt, she said she went to Student Health Services where she was given a topical cream, but it wasn't enough. She was later prescribed oral steroids.

While on the steroids, Snyder said she accidentally sat on the bench again and began to redevelop the symptoms.

"I wouldn't have been certain [it was from the benches] if it hadn't shown up again," Snyder said.

She said the rash took a couple weeks to completely disappear.

Colleen McGettigan, 20, also a Temple student, developed the same kind of rash on her way to a Phillies game in late July. Wearing shorts, she sat on one of the benches while waiting for the subway.

"I could feel it happening," she said. "Throughout the game, [the rashes] got really hot and red and kind of turned into welts."

She developed eight of those "welts" on the backs of both thighs and they grew three to four inches in diameter, she said. McGettigan went to the beach the next day with her family and sought urgent care where she was treated with steroids, anti-itch cream and antibiotics.

A week later, the symptoms subsided. But even today, she has some scarring.

Denys said the rash isn't a major threat, and although there seems to be a correlation between the benches in the subway and these cases, Denys said he can't be sure.

"It's very difficult to tell," he said. "We've had students with this rash who have never been on the subway in their lives."

Denys said the rash is closer to that of poison ivy, rather than bug bites.

So far, most patients have only needed to be treated with a topical cream. Just a few needed the steroids.

Jerri Williams, SEPTA spokeswoman, said the authority had received four to five complaints since last month concerning the benches and skin irritation.

The Cecil stop, one of the last in the subway system to have wooden benches as opposed to metal ones, is the only location where there have been complaints.

To be cautious, Williams said SEPTA has since power-washed the two benches, treated them with insecticide, painted and sealed them.

"It's a coincidence," Williams said, "but we will replace them in the near future."