Rare Syndrome Mysteriously Affecting Teens

This is 16-year-old Lori Brownell. As you can see in the videos below, Lori is very sick. Her symptoms started last August. Nobody could diagnose her at the time, and since then 17 more kids have developed the same symptoms in the same geographical area.

On Christmas Eve, doctors finally determined that Lori had developed Tourette syndrome, a sickness that causes involuntary physical and vocal tics, and, in a minority of cases, swearing. What nobody knows yet is why this syndrome is spreading so quickly and in such a small community.

The rest of the kids are showing the same symptoms as Lori. Most of the 17 teenagers affected by this syndrome — all girls except one boy — go to LeRoy High School, in Genesee County, New York. The other two girls are from Corinth, in Saratoga County, about 80km away. It's unclear yet if there is any connection between these two groups.

Some doctors believe that all of the teens have conversion disorder, a neurosis that affects motor functions. People used to call this hysteria. Conversion disorder's symptoms may include fits, numbness, blindness and paralysis. Psychiatrists believe this disorder happens because of difficulties in the patient's life, not because of any external pathogen or chemical substance.

But that may not be it. Lori has already been diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, not conversion disorder, and no root cause has been identified that might cause such a widespread neurosis. James Dupont, whose daughter has presented the same Tourette syndrome symptoms as Lori, says he can't believe there is no physical cause: "These girls are getting sick like crazy up there. We got four new cases over the weekend."

Tourette syndrome, on the other hand, brings symptoms like the ones that Lori shows on her videos: uncontrollable twitches in both her muscles and speech. This causes tics in her arms and head, as well as forcing her to make noises through her nose and mouth. Tourette can also include coprolalia — literally, faeces talk, the compulsion to swear uncontrollably — but this is rare and doesn't seem to be affecting Lori and the rest of the kids.

Obviously, Tourette syndrome is a condition that can seriously affect the life of the patient. Lori hasn't been able to go back to school. Every time she goes out, people keep staring at her. And if she tries to hold the twitching, it keeps building up until it comes out in a violent explosion, causing her pain. Fortunately, it seems to wane with time, as adolescents go into adulthood. It never fades away completely, however, according to scientific studies.

There's no clear cause for Tourette syndrome, but scientists believe that children can develop it because of both genetic and environmental factors. In the case of these kids, nobody has been able to find a solid common link yet between all the cases. The only nexus is the fact that some of the girls are in the same softball team, which toured the area last year. According to the local media, Alycia Nicholson — one of Lori's friends on that team — is experiencing the same symptoms.

This is why the National Institutes of Health is planning to start an investigation. Even the famous Erin Brockovich — popularised by Julia Roberts in the eponymous movie — is now involved in the case. She has sent a team of scientists to collect soil samples around LeRoy High School, even while the school board says they have "ruled out" the possibility of infections or chemical poisoning.

Whatever it is, here's hoping they find something soon. I hope you all get well soon, Lori and everyone else affected by this horrible sickness. [WYNT, Rochester Homepage, National Institute of Neurological Disorders, US National Library of Medicine]

December 18, Lori developed a new twitch on the way to the see the doctor.

December 24, the day she was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.

WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    Very confronting videos. Amazing to watch. I think a lot of people have misconceptions about the whole Tourette's deal. She's very brave to be documenting it all, but I think it's necessary to see just how together she is.

    Likely resulting from drinking contaminated water from coal seam gas extraction process.

      I'm sorry, but should there be a 'Dr' in front of your name? Unless I'm missing a subtle joke or something here, I don't think you're really in a position to say that something is 'likely' the cause.

    agreed Chris, there are still so many misconceptions about Tourette's.

    Matt might not be far off, I work in the groundwater science industry and that was my 1st thought. Genesee County is in the marcellus shale area and is being targeted by exploration drilling which are conducted exactly the same as production drilling. And yes I will have Dr in front of my name soon.

      Dr CSG concerned? :-)

        but only to my friends ;-)

    if the nexus is the softball team I would question and test all sources of food and water that were given to the team. Particularly the water, I am guessing they would all drink from the same large water cooler when on field? that water would have had to of been sourced from somewhere?

    I'll call it as it looks, fake.

      17 cases... and it's fake? try read the news...

        You don't know much about teenagers do you?

          Yeah, like... Don't you?

            "don't you?"
            wha...? Ah, forget it.

              I was typing as a teenage girl... Grammar doesn't apply to me.

              KBeau4196 June 22, 2011 I am American and i am not fat, ingaront or belligerent. I may not know everything about every other country, but if you think about it, who does? I am not biased and i do not base my thoughts on other countries based on stereotypes.You may think American' accents are stupid, but to me they aren't because i live here. That is just rude i don't think any other accent is stupid.We might have a stereotype about talking with strange accents and texting jargon in speech such as lol', but we certainly do not talk weird relative to our country.You are ingaront- and that is not based on your nationality.

    I winced when I read the initial diagnosis of conversion disorder, otherwise referred to as hysteria. This has for many years been the go to diagnosis for female patients presenting with an illness or condition that doctors are otherwise unable to readily identify. I presume many of these young women were simply prescribed a tranquilliser and sent on their way...

    I wonder if this would have been an acceptable diagnosis if the male/female split had been 17 to 1 rather than 1 in 17.

      A tranquilliser and isolation for each other and people supporting them in their attention getting social condition would probably be a pretty decent cure. ;)

      I hope you're joking due to the "hysteria" thing. If not, just go away, there is no conspiracy to discriminate against girls here.

    I wonder if all these girls had the HPV Vaccine? Why have no boys developed symptoms? Side effects maybe?

      No, one boy did. But he's probably gay.

      Vaccine side effect? Really dude. Come on. You HAVE to be joking.

        Indeed. A small, isolated group of teenagers out of millions vaccinated all seem to develop the same disorder. No connection at all.

      Hello Citizen!

    Bad batch of drugs is a likely cause. Note in the first video that the symptoms started after passing out at a concert. Booyah! Drugs it is.

      Booya, huh?

      That would only be the case if all of them took the drugs and were at the concert. And if that was the case, the link would be so obvious it would have already picked up by investigators....

        Don't be so sure about that. Drugs aren't developed for any particular purpose. Maybe some of these kids did it at school, at home or at another function. And the chances of teenage girls owning up to it - Slim.

    I like Bretts theory of illicit drugs. Its not at all inconceivable that most of the girls from a soft ball team, some other people from the same school, and some other people from the same area, all ended up taking the same party pills or something.

    I have tourette syndrome, and had it since I was about 7 or 8. It was rather bad at times during my teenage years but since i'm in my late 20's it's gotten almost to the point where no one would know I had it. All I do is roll my eyes every now and then. As a child/young teenager I did do a small amount of vocal "tics" but no swearing. I think that mostly came about due to the Deuce Bigallow movie with the swearing woman since I've never heard of anyone being unable to control their swearing.

    Anyway, the really horrible thing about it is that as a child I had pretty much a set list of things I would do. Roll my eyes, stretch my mouth like I was a vocalist warming up their mouth (only way I can describe it), and a few other minor things. I would "pick up" tics that I had to do and they would only last a day or so. Some of these weren't pleasent such as taping my groin or making small noises like she did in her last video. There was never a reason for why it suddenly started but it's strange that in her case didn't come about until she was 17. It usually happens when you are a child. Either way just thought i'd pipe up and say that it's not cool having it since it clearly labels you out when your a kid for bullying.

    I have a good friend that is in her early 40's and a couple of years ago and her symptoms are that she has trouble talking, walking and has tongue tremors. There isn't one conversion disorder. I am wondering if it could be environmental.

    Have you seen South Park?
    They're copying Cartman for kicks.

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