By Sandra Tan, Buffalo News staff reporter
Officials rule out environmental factors
Updated: January 13, 2012, 7:24 AM
When a dozen female students at Le Roy High School started exhibiting strange and involuntary movements, seizures or “tics” over the past few months, alarmed school and state health personnel scrambled to determine the cause.
After months of investigation and a battery of health and environmental tests, however, what school and state health personnel told concerned parents this week is that there is no known environmental or infectious cause for the bizarre condition that debilitated most of the girls.
State Department of Health officials declined to publicly diagnose them, citing privacy laws, but at least one local expert in the field of movement disorders stated Thursday that what most of these girls experienced is likely the result of mass hysteria.
“Over a long period of time, this has been recognized as an underlying cause for such outbreaks,” said Dr. David G. Lichter, a clinical professor of neurology at the University at Buffalo.
More properly identified as “mass psychogenic illness,” the condition experienced by these students was likely a real physical manifestation of an underlying psychological condition, said Lichter, who has evaluated one girl and is a trained movement disorder expert.
Essentially, mass psychogenic illness is the result of the brain making the body sick, not unlike what occurs when people suffer nausea and breathing difficulties as a result of “stage fright,” say medical experts. No one denies the reality of the symptoms, and healthy people can temporarily suffer from it.
While some parents at Wednesday night’s community meeting at Le Roy Junior-Senior High School expressed concerns about exposure to harmful chemicals or vaccines, both Lichter and Health Department officials dismissed these as causes of the outbreak, which began with a few students exhibiting symptoms and led to a greater number of girls being affected.
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