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Teens' tics: Mysterious illness or hysteria?

  • 12 teenage girls afflicted at one New York high school
  • Neurologist says it's rare case of 'conversion disorder'

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Teens' tics: Mysterious illness or hysteria?

A mysterious ailment surfaced last fall among 12 teenage girls at one New York high school. They shook uncontrollably, stuttered profusely and exhibited bursts of nervous twitches that threaten to alter their lives forever.

After the parents demanded that administrators at LeRoy Junior-Senior High School look into the illness, which emerged in October, the school struggled to find a culprit. Was it something in the environment? Were street drugs to blame?

On Tuesday, the school district stressed that it was doing its utmost to allay concerns. “The environment or an infection is not the cause of the students’ tics,” a statement on the district’s website said. “There are many causes of tic-like symptoms. Stress can often worsen tic-like symptoms. These symptoms are real.”

The district teamed up with New York State Department of Health officials last week in a community meeting to update the public on comprehensive reviews of the students’ medical records. Citing privacy laws, health officials said they couldn't divulge a diagnosis.

On Wednesday, an Amherst neurologist, Laszlo Mechtler, told "Today" the girls suffered from "conversion disorder," or mass hysteria.

Mass hysteria or mass psychogenic illness is a condition with physical symptoms that basically "can spread rapidly by apparent visual transmission," according to the Journal of the American Academy of Physicians website.

"It's happened before, all around the world, in different parts of the world. It's a rare phenomena. Physicians are intrigued by it," Mechtler told Today. "The bottom line is these teenagers will get better."

Last week, David G. Lichter, a clinical professor of neurology at the University at Buffalo, told BuffaloNews, "Over a long period of time, this has been recognized as an underlying cause for such outbreaks."

While it is not clear whether Mechtler or Lichter individually diagnosed the teenagers or was making an educated assumption based on media reports, what remains clear is that the girls are suffering.

We want to hear from our HLN readers: Could these teens be suffering from a new illness? Or does this sound like mass hysteria to you?

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