Erin Brockovich, a legal aide whose battle with a water utility in California… (Kim D. Johnson / Associated…)
Erin Brockovich has announced she'll be looking into an outbreak of Tourette's-like symptoms among a group of high school students in western New York, to see if they have any environmental causes.
Around 15 girls at Le Roy High School have developed strange symptoms since last fall: uncontrollable verbal outbursts and physical twitches so debilitating that one student interviewed by ABC has to use a wheelchair.
New York Department of Health authorities looking into the matter reportedly found no sign of environmental causes or infectious agents. Some have diagnosed the illnesses as a type of conversion disorder, in which psychological stress can induce a host of physical symptoms.
Though the causes may be in the mind, the effects can be highly debilitating. According to the Mayo Clinic, they can include difficulty swallowing, deafness, seizures and even paralysis.
Given that more than a dozen girls in the same school have come down with the symptoms in a short period of time, this particular case has been labeled as mass hysteria, which is when a conversion disorder occurs in a large group of people.
Nonetheless, warns the NYU Langone Medical Center, the symptoms of the illness are very real and should not be taken lightly. "It is important to understand that the symptoms of conversion disorder are involuntary, that is, the person does not consciously act out, or pretend that they have the symptoms," according to the center's page on the subject. "A hallmark of these symptoms is their lack of connection to any known organic medical diagnoses."
But Brockovich, whose pursuit of an industrial contamination cover-up in small-town California inspired the Oscar-nominated film named after her, pointed to a four-decade-old chemical spill as a potential suspect, and has said she will investigate to see if it could be the culprit or be ruled out for good.
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