A mystery illness that has caused Tourette’s-like symptoms in 15 students at LeRoy High School, in upstate New York, is spreading.NBC News reports that 36-year-old Marge Fitzsimmons, who lives a few miles from the school, has developed the same unexplained tic that has left 14 girls and one boy twitching and making uncontrollable verbal outburst since fall.
“It started out with sudden head jerks in the middle of October,” Fitzsimmons, a nurse practitioner, told NBC. When the motor tics turned to verbal tics, she had to stop working.
But in every case so far, tests have found nothing physically wrong.
Health researchers are now investigating whether the disorder is paediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS), a condition caused by bacteria or viruses that can infect the brain, according to the Daily Mail.
The small city has also drawn the attention of high-profile campaigning lawyer Erin Brockovich, who suspects the symptoms could be linked to a chemical spill in the area in 1970.
For now, Fitzsimmons and the affected teenagers have been diagnosed with conversion disorder — also known as mass hysteria — a psychological condition that can elicit powerful physical symptoms.
Outbreaks, which are rare, tend to involve teenage girls who are under stress, according to experts who spoke to Mike Stobbe of Associated Press.
Dr. Jennifer McVige, a local neurologist who has seen 10 of the LeRoy teens, told AP, “All of the kids had something big that happened,” like divorcing parents or some other upsetting situation.
Continued media attention could be contributing to ongoing anxiety and prolonging the reaction, McVige said.
To see the symptoms, here’s the NBC report:
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