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Expert to discuss tic outbreak in Le Roy at meeting scheduled Wednesday

With parents in Le Roy still concerned about what might have caused a small number of teenage girls to develop tics, the school district has announced a public meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, where officials from various health agencies will discuss what they know at this point.

It's unclear if any definitive findings will be shared at the meeting.

According to the district's website:

The District continues to work with medical specialists, the State and County Health Departments, and the County and State Office of Mental Health during this ongoing investigation. Representatives from these organizations will be sharing the latest details about the investigation with the community.

The meeting will be held in the Jr./Sr. high school auditorium.

Today, The Batavian spoke with Dr. Jonathan Mink, chief of child neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and co-chair of the scientific advisory board of the Tourette Syndrome Association.

Mink said while he's followed coverage of the situation in Le Roy, he hasn't been directly involved. He has spoken with colleagues who have patients among the group of students displaying the tics.

The tics -- involuntary muscle movements -- have led some media reports to categorize the situation as some sort of outbreak of Tourette Syndrome.

Mink said it's highly unlikely that it's Tourette's.

While one-in-four to one-in-five children develop tics at some point in their young life, the tics usually end after a year or less. It's very unusual for teenagers to develop a new onset of tics, he said.

Less than .6 percent of children develop Tourette Syndrome, and almost never after becoming teens.

While it's possible that one or two teenage girls in Le Roy had Tourette's and developed more pronounced symptoms in high school, the chances of the six or seven girls who have reportedly developed the symptoms are incredibly slim.

Tourette Syndrome is also three or four times more likely to strike boys. It's an inherited disorder and not caused by environmental conditions.

At one time, some scientists speculated that strep infections could cause Tourette's, but new research has proven that isn't the case, Mink said.

It's also possible for other neurological disorders to cause tics, but based on what Mink knows about the situation, the symptoms of other underlying neurological problems are not present in these cases.

As for environmental causes, that isn't likely either, Mink said.

There just isn't much scientific evidence for environmental factors causing tics.

"It's extremely unlikely that anything in the air, in the water or in the food they've eaten is the cause of tics," Mink said.

As for something the students might have ingested, such as stimulants, Mink said such a cause is also unlikely. It would take significant dosage of any drug, prescribed or not, to cause tics and then other behavioral changes would be apparent.

Which leaves one other known cause of tics: Stress.

Mink said he doesn't want to leave the impression that he is characterizing the situation in any way involving the girls in Le Roy, but people have different ways of responding to stress -- some people sweat, some develop diseases, some heart conditions, and some develop tics.

If a teenager has a propensity toward tics, elevated stress could make them more pronounced.

A tic isn't a habit, Mink said, but it's like a habit in that a person susceptible to tics might take on the tics of another person when exposed to that person.

"A person gets exposed to those symptoms and they take on those symptoms," Mink said. "It may be that the stresses of everyday life and how these girls deal with stress (that is the cause)."

It's possible, he said, that one or two girls had Tourette Syndrome, the symptoms grew more pronounced and the other girls picked up the "habits" of the girls with Tourette's. Or maybe none of them have Tourette's, but the tics got passed along like habits nonetheless.

"I don't have reason to believe there is any kind of infection that would cause an outbreak like this," Mink said near the end of our conversation. "While the cause is unclear, there is no reason to think there is any kind of public health threat."

Kelly Hansen
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Joined: Oct 9 2008

My guess would be the Gardasil vaccine. Google Gardasil and tremors.

Beth Kinsley
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Joined: Aug 22 2008

That would explain why it is only girls. Apparently that's been ruled out though.

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