On Sep. 26, a student at William Byrd High School in Virginia, a US state on the Atlantic coast, reported suffering twitching, dizziness and headaches. Days afterwards, another student announced the same symptoms. Later in the month, more students from the school in Roanoke County were seen twitching . "They wave. It's convulsing . They can't stop it," student Layne Gulli told reporters. "You don't know how to avoid it. You don't know if you're next."
Fewer than 10 students and one member of staff were affected by the symptoms, but worried parents urged officials to close the school. Earlier this month, about 300 of the school's 1,200 students were absent. The outbreak mystified the community. "There's rumors it was carbon dioxide from the photography room," said student Joe Bradshaw. "We heard it was lead paint. Nobody knows."
Last week Virginia's Department of Health ruled out any environmental factors. "We believe the school is safe," said Dr. Stephanie Harper. Instead, the department argued: "Stress in the group setting may have played a role in causing the symptoms experienced." It called the outbreak " sociogenic in nature."
Dr. Jim Bolton, consultant psychiatrist at St Helier hospital in Surrey, southern England, said: "There's a strong possibility that it's a case of mass hysteria . It tends to occur in close communities, particularly schools, sometimes sports teams and convents. It occurs across all kinds of cultures, and is very common, particularly at times of stress. I remember when I was at school there would be fainting epidemics . Girls for weeks would be fainting left, right and center."
At William Byrd High School they're still baffled. Dr. Lorraine Lange, Roanoke County schools superintendent, said: "I don't think students here are differently stressed from any other high school students."
Dean : What are you reading, Phil?
Phil : A book about a girl named Anna O. She was a patient of Josef Breuer and was diagnosed with hysteria. Her case had a huge influence on Sigmund Freud.
Dean : My great-grandmother was diagnosed with hysteria.
Phil : It's a tough disease to have. A lot of people don't believe you're really sick.
Dean : Yeah, a lot of people just assumed my great-grandmother was looney, and I don't think she ever got proper treatment.
Looney means either crazy or silly. The word can describe people or situations. For example, "Luke thinks Mary is dangerous, but I think she's just a bit looney. "
And why that school should be susceptible to mass hysteria is, for the moment, unclear.(THE GUARDIAN)