Fifteen teenage girls report a mysterious outbreak of spasms,tics and seizures in upstate New York. But tests find nothing physically wrong. The conclusion by experts is that these are just the latest examples of what used to be called mass hysteria. Now known as conversion disorder,where sufferers experience real,but psychologically triggered symptoms.
Conversion disorder is rare,but scores of outbreaks have been recorded around the world through the years. Most potbreaks involve females,often teenagers. Some think it has to do with the way girls are socialised to deal with stress.
Symptoms seen vary,and cases have included blindness,headaches,nausea and paralysis. They often seem to begin with one person and then it spreads to people they know. One thing in common,is some kind of precipitating stress.
In Le Roy,New York,the site of the latest example of this disorder. Dr. Jennifer McVige,a pediatric neurologist based in nearby Batavia,has seen 10 of the teens. All of the kids had something big that happened, like divorcing parents or some other upsetting situation,McVige said.
The Le Roy Central School District paid for an inspection of the school,checking for formaldehyde,carbon monoxide,carbon dioxide,molds,solvents and even lighting levels. No environmental cause was found.
But the belief that there must be a physical cause drew national news attention,and finally,California environmental activist Erin Brockovich. She wanted to investigate if a 1970 derailed train carrying chemicals may have contaminated groundwater with trichloroethene,or TCE. State health officials say no TCE was found at the school.
The girls and their parents have appeared on national and international TV. On NBCs Today Show last month,senior Thera Sanchez told how her tics worsened to the point where she couldnt even attend class. I want an answer, she said.
Experts have looked on curiously at the Le Roy story. One piece of footage prompted laughter this week among a group of physicians. They were watching a BBC report on the cases,which showed one girl with a jerking arm that suddenly became very controlled as she applied eyeliner.
Anxiety and suspicion are fuelled by YouTube,and Facebook that werent prevalent in earlier outbreaks,observed sociologist Robert Bartholomew. There is a good chance symptoms could spread and last for several more months,even years.