SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

June 26, 2013

Wide net cast in hiccups probe

State conducted air-quality tests, contacted physicians

(Continued)

The updates outline efforts of the Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Environmental Health to investigate the symptoms at both schools.

In February, state public health officials met with parents of affected students, school officials and Danvers and Middleton health officials to learn more about their concerns.

In March, the Department of Public Health and the Board of Registration of Medicine sent letters to more than 2,600 “attending physicians, encompassing more than a dozen medical specialties” looking to see if any had treated patients with vocal tics or chronic hiccups from the two schools. The doctors were asked to discuss the state investigation with parents to see if they would consent to allow the state to obtain the patients’ medical records.

“To date, MDPH has received signed medical records forms for nine students who have been reported as having these symptoms,” according to the May 10 status report.

The state has also conducted a number of indoor air quality tests and made visual observations in school buildings. As of May 10, the state had investigated five of the 20 buildings that make up Essex Aggie’s campus — the main classroom building, the cafeteria, the gym, the expo center and the horse barn — and had planned to visit the rest of the school and North Shore Tech by the end of last month.

“Based on the observation and air measurements taken during the building investigations conducted at Essex Agricultural and Technical High School to date, no environmental factors that would be most likely attributed to significant neurological effects have been detected,” the update states.

The state is also looking into environmental information for the East Street field in Middleton “where parents who attended the February meeting reported that many of the students experiencing vocal tics and chronic hiccups have played sports.”

In January, some health experts who had not seen any of the local students theorized the incidents appeared to be a case of conversion disorder and mass psychogenic illness, also known as mass hysteria. That was the explanation given for a widely publicized case involving high school girls suffering tics in Le Roy, N.Y. It’s a diagnosis that came under intense scrutiny.

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