Something strange is going on in the small town of LeRoy, NY, otherwise known for being the birthplace of Jell-O. Around 18 people – largely teenage girls but also including one boy and a 36-year-old nurse practitioner – are suffering from a mystery illness with neurological symptoms similar to those caused by Tourette's syndrome.
Last fall, formerly healthy teenagers like 17-year-old Thera Sanchez started to experience uncontrollable tics, including limb spasms, stammering and verbal outbursts.
Dr. Laszlo Mechtler of the Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, NY has officially diagnosed the girls with conversion disorder or mass hysteria. Dr. David Lichter, a professor of neurology at the University of Buffalo, agrees with this diagnosis and also adds that social media might cause the disorder to spread, as it leads to information overload. Understandably, several of the girls and their parents remain unsatisfied with this diagnosis and are seeking better answers.
Having found evidence of infection in 8 of 9 girls examined, New Jersey neurologist Dr. Rosario Trifiletti believes that Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections, or PANDAS, is the right diagnosis.
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, however, is leading a team conducting tests in an area four miles from the LeRoy Junior-Senior High School, which most of the affected girls attended. A train accident in this area in the 1970s spilled one ton of cyanide crystals and 30,000 gallons of industrial solvent Trichloroethene. Brockovich's team has yet to find a confirmed link between the train derailment and the LeRoy mystery illness.
Image by hurleygurley on Flickr, courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.