SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

June 26, 2013

Wide net cast in hiccups probe

State conducted air-quality tests, contacted physicians

(Continued)

Parents from around the country supported the theory that pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections, or PANDAS, may be to blame. This condition involves rare cases when strep infections cause autoimmune reactions in the brain.

The Essex Aggie case has caught the attention of New Zealand author Robert Bartholomew, a native New Yorker who has a doctorate in medical sociology and who teaches at the Botany Downs Secondary College in South Auckland. The researcher has written extensively on the subject of mass hysteria in schools.

“This is a highly unusual case. After all, it’s not every day that more than a dozen high school students come down with vocal tics and hiccuping,” he said in an email. “It would be almost impossible to fake the symptoms ... being described,” said Bartholomew.

He has been trying, with no luck, to get answers from the state Department of Public Health to learn from these incidents so they could be prevented from reoccurring.

While Bartholomew sympathizes with state health officials for wanting to play down the episode while they investigate, he said enough time has passed to at least give a tentative diagnosis. While the state may be reluctant to say it might be mass hysteria, “fearing a public backlash,” Bartholomew said saying nothing could trigger a national scare, as was the case in Le Roy, N.Y.

“Transparency is the best policy in these cases,” Bartholomew said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at eforman@salemnews.com.

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