An outbreak of a Tourette’s-like illness in a small US town is being linked to a chemical spill 40 years ago. Or to digital social media frenzy.
According to The Daily Mail, there have been 19 cases in Le Roy, New York of a mystery condition with symptoms such as uncontrollable facial and bodily twitching associated with Tourette’s syndrome. Fifteen of the victims are girls in Le Roy High School. Environmental campaigners, including Erin Brockovich, believe the cause might be a 30,000-gallon dump of trichloroethylene (TCE) from a 1970 train crash on the outskirts of Le Roy. An industrial solvent, TCE is hazardous in high doses and can affect the nervous system.
However, doctors and teachers at the school don’t think that the spill is the cause. And it’s been suggested by some that social media, particularly Facebook and YouTube, are helping to spread the condition. Its victims have been using YouTube to post videos of themselves, documenting their plight and appealing for help and some experts have said that symptoms are being “reinforced and magnified” as the videos are disseminated.
David Lichter, professor of neurology at the University of Buffalo, who has treated some of the patients, told MSNBC: “It’s remarkable to see how one individual posts something, and then the next person who posts something not only are the movements bizarre and not consistent with known movement disorders, but it’s the same kind of movements.
“This mimicry goes on with Facebook or YouTube exposure. This is the modern way that symptomology could be spread.”
Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, chief of neurology at the Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, has a similar theory: “When one has a symptom, it can be reinforced and magnified with other individuals with similar symptoms.
“That’s what’s going on with these girls. They are in a segregated small rural town in New York state. They are a cohesive group. And this wildfire of symptoms takes control.”
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