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Mass Hysteria

that's interesting. i have had a niggling feeling sometimes when reading about mass hysteria cases that it's an unexplained phenomenon being used to explain away and unexplained event.

Wasn't there some trouble a while ago with girls in a rural boarding school? i went to a convent school and there were 650 of us. needless to say we were like caged animals :roll: and we weren't even boarding. but how does a bit of stir craziness become a mass hysteria event?
I just ran across this interesting essay that seems to fit this idea - it's an example of a skeptical position in the past making outrageous claims againts the person who hypotisised bat's use of radar:


How Scepticism Blocks Progress:

Cuvier and Spallanzani

Guy Lyon Playfair

In 1794 the eminent Italian physiologist Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-99), one of the founders of experimental biology, published a modest but heretical proposal. Long intrigued by the ability of bats to fly in total darkness without bumping into things, he set out to discover how they did it. He reasoned that they must be using one of their five senses, and in a series of extremely cruel experiments he maimed bats by destroying their senses one by one, blinding them, blocking their ears or even cutting them off, eliminating their sense of smell and removing their tongues.

It soon became clear to him that it was the sense of hearing that bats needed in order to avoid obstacles. But hearing what? Bats made no audible sounds as they flew, and little if anything was known in the 18th century about ultrasound, the secret of bats’ success as nocturnal navigators. As they fly, they emit beams of up to 50,000 cycles per second - more than twice the upper limit of human hearing - and ‘read’ the returning echoes. It was a striking example, of which there are many, of a man-made invention, in this case echo location or sonar, having existed in nature long before we reinvented it.

Spallanzani was in effect making a claim for the paranormal, much as the pioneers of psychical research were to do in the following century in the case of telepathy. There was no sign in 1794 of a normal explanation for the bat’s navigating skills, so the scientific establishment did what it tends to do on these occasions - it made one up. Its chief spokesman was the French naturalist Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), a pioneer in both anatomy and palaeontology. He decreed, in a paper published in 1795, that “to us, the organs of touch seem sufficient to explain all the phenomena which bats exhibit”.

He had it all worked out. Bats’ wings were “richly supplied with nerves of every type”, which could somehow or other receive impressions of heat, cold and resistance. Yet whereas Spallanzani, and several colleagues whom he persuaded to repeat his experiments, reached their unanimous conclusion only after numerous experiments, Cuvier solved the problem without having performed a single one. It was, as the 20th century bat expert Robert Galambos noted, “a triumph of logic over experimentation”.

It was also a triumph of ignorance over knowledge. One of Spallanzani’s colleagues had actually thought of the sensitive-wing theory and tested it, by putting bats in an all-white room and coating their wingtips with some kind of black stuff that would come off on the walls and various white objects if the bats’ wings touched them. They didn’t.

Cuvier’s explanation soon found its way into the textbooks, and stayed there until the start of the 20th century, when independent researchers in France and the USA published yet more experimental evidence in support of Spallanzani’s theory. Then, in 1920, a British researcher named Hartridge who had helped to develop the first naval sonar systems during World War 1, published the first clearly stated theory of bat navigation by ultrasound. This was duly confirmed, using newly developed recording devices, by Galambos and his colleague Donald Griffin, who published their results in 1941 - nearly a century and a half after Spallanzani.

In retrospect, it is hard to see how those original findings took so long to gain acceptance. Spallanzani was no maverick amateur, but a versatile and experienced researcher regarded as one of the leading physiologists of his day who did pioneering work in such areas as fertilisation, artificial insemination and limb regeneration. In his bat research he followed what is now the normal practice of inviting colleagues to replicate one’s findings or claims. His work was widely disseminated - an English translation of the final and fairly conclusive report of his Swiss collaborator Louis Jurine appeared in the first volume (1798) of the Philosophical Magazine. Above all. the acoustic theory was solidly based on the experimental evidence of several independent researchers. Yet it was to remain neglected for more than a century largely thanks to the immense prestige of Cuvier, whom Napoleon put in charge of French educational reform. Lone voices of dissent, such as that of British physician Sir Anthony Carlisle, who concluded, after carrying out his own experiments, that bats avoided obstacles “owing to extreme acuteness of hearing” went largely unheard. A more typical attitude was expressed in 1809 by one George Montagu, who asked sarcastically “Since bats see with their ears, do they hear with their eyes?”

“Had he [Spallanzani] been taken seriously, how much sooner might we have discovered radar?” asked the late Eric Laithwaite, an engineer with a keen interest in natural technology. It would only have to have been invented five or ten years earlier to have possibly saved the more than 1,500 lives lost when the Titanic hit an iceberg in 1912. Bats do not fly into icebergs or anything else, and it should have been possible to work out how long before it finally was. Laithwaite added: “Trying to discover how a biological mechanism works has an advantage over solving problems in non-biological areas since one is sure the problem can be solved.” Since Nature has already solved her problems, the researcher has the sure knowledge that a solution exists.

However, as long as the spirit of the Cuviers of this world lives on, as it still does in such organisations as CSICOP, many of them may remain unsolved for another century or so.

Galambos, R. (1942) The avoidance of obstacles by flying bats. Isis 34, 132-40.
Hartridge, N. (1920) The avoidance of objects by bats in their flight. Journal of Physiology 54, 54-7.
Laithwaite, E. R. (1977) Biological analogues in engineering practice. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 2(2), 100-8.
The fun featured FT article on the MAD GASSER once again shows that it was not mass hysteria that created the problem, but that it had very real origins that were right there (and fairly ordinarily within bounds of normal human behavior) all along.

If the Mad Gasser was ground zero for the mass hysteria argument, does that mean that mass hysteria should be investigated a bit more to se if it has any validity anywhere?
Hilary Evans' book Panic Attacks is well worth a read, although the section on Witchcraft is rather sketchy.

People generally use the term Mass Hysteria in two different contexts, and I'm not sure that they're really the same thing at all. Firstly there are the cases like Fatima where crowds of people see the same thing (or roughly the same thing) at the same time, then secondly there are cases like the penis shrinking scares or the New Dehli Monkey Man where growing numbers of people report having the same individual experience. Maybe 'Mass Contagion' would be a better term for the second class?
How about things like the Devils of Loudon? Would that fit into the second case?
placeholder said:
i have had a niggling feeling sometimes when reading about mass hysteria cases that it's an unexplained phenomenon being used to explain away and unexplained event.

I have this feeling that your feeling is right on the mark.

"Mass hysteria" and especially "collective hallucinations" (which is even more iffy) may be Skeptics willing to accept one Paranormality in order to explain away all other Paranormal phenomena.
I have always put mass hysteria down to a sort of herd instinct, for example when one of a herd spots a predator and starts running.

Take an example from the microcosm of my childhood:
There were times when we were out deep in the woods when somebody would get completely spooked out and start running, out of instinct the rest of us would usually start running as well, almost as if our lives depended on it, even if we didnt know why we were running away. Later people would swear blind they saw the same thing that the origional runner said they got spooked out by, even if logically they couldnt have due to position etc. And if that instintual urge exists in kids then why not in adults? Albeit deeper down in the mind I would think due to the knowledge of adulthood.
Massed Mass Hysteria Attacks

There have been three or four major "mass hysteria" attacks in schools within just the past month - in Malaysia, one or perhaps two in India and yet another in Mexico.
Here is one from Mexico (not sure if it is the one refered to):

April 16, 2007
Chalco Journal

At a School for the Poor, a Mysterious Illness


CHALCO, Mexico, April 11 — The teenage girls hobbled into a prayer meeting at their Roman Catholic boarding school, their knees buckling with every step. For months, a mysterious illness had swept through their school, afflicting hundreds of girls, and they were there to ask for recovery.

The first isolated cases of the illness, which affected the girls’ walking and made them feverish and nauseated, appeared in November and December. After the girls came back from Christmas break, the illness spread. By February, the school’s director, Sister Margie Cheong, had become alarmed and alerted the authorities.

At the Wednesday prayer meeting, Sister Michaela Shim handed out cookies and began to tell a story in her Korean-accented Spanish. The girls laughed and shouted as her improvised parable unfolded. It was the story of a boy who lies to get attention.

What may be happening here is far more complex. After batteries of tests, doctors now believe that the illness that has struck 600 of the 3,600 girls at this charity-run school is psychological.

In medical terms, Mexico’s public health authorities have concluded that the girls at the Children’s Village School are suffering from a mass psychogenic disorder. In layman’s language, they have a collective hysteria.

It is a diagnosis that doctors are usually hesitant to make, concerned they might miss any other cause and uncomfortable with 19th-century images of screaming girls, trances or collective delusions.

But Dr. Víctor Manuel Torres Meza, the director of epidemiology for the Mexico State health department, said there were some 80 documented cases from around the world. They are usually in closed communities, like schools and factories, and they tend to occur more frequently among adolescents and among girls.

“We have a group of only girls living under a situation of strict control and discipline that they have to follow to the letter,” Dr. Torres Meza said. “These illnesses occur in closed groups that have no external communication. Emotional factors have a cumulative effect. What is the trigger?”

About 20 psychiatrists and psychologists from federal hospitals have begun private interviews with the girls who are still sick or have been sick, he said, adding that he hoped to have a preliminary report by the end of the month.

When the scale of the illness became clear, the school allowed parents to take their daughters out for a week. The sick ones promptly recovered, and they have been trickling back to school, somewhat to the surprise of reporters and television crews outside the gates who have crowded the girls and their families to look for evidence of mistreatment inside.

“We need support, not scandal,” Sister Cheong said in an interview at the school. She seemed visibly exhausted by the news media attention and clearly concerned that it might scare away some of the donations she needed for the school’s $4 million operating budget.

The school, founded in 1990, is one of 10 in Asia and Latin America operated by a charity called World Villages for Children. It is run by nuns from the Sisters of Mary, an order founded in South Korea in 1964 by an American priest, Msgr. Aloysius Schwartz.

The school here offers three years of middle school and two years of technical high school to girls ages 12 to 17.

The expansive campus is at the dust-veiled edge of Chalco, this vast working-class suburb of Mexico City. With a population of as many as half a million, Chalco is a watchword in Mexico for urban poverty. An unplanned settlement of concrete-block houses that the owners can never afford to finish, Chalco has mushroomed over the past 30 years as migrants have moved from the countryside to look for work in the capital.

But within the school’s metal gates are trimmed hedges and well-tended lawns, sports fields, a swimming pool and a gymnasium that holds 4,000. In a bizarre touch, an ostrich, the school mascot, wanders through a corner garden.

The girls, from some of Mexico’s poorest regions, race from computer classes, to choir rehearsal, to tae kwan do classes. Dorms are spotless and spartan: donated toys are displayed untouched above the closets, and the girls sleep 40 to a dorm in three-story bunks.

Officials said they had found no evidence of mistreatment, although they acknowledged that the girls were tightly disciplined and very isolated. The girls see their parents at most three times a year: two weeks in July, 10 days at Christmas and on parents’ day, which is usually in May. There are no phone calls and few letters.

The school justifies its policy as being fair to those girls whose families live far away and cannot visit them regularly.

“Yes, the girls miss their families,” Sister Cheong said. “But here we form character. A girl here is no longer an Indian girl from the mountains. She knows how to express herself, she knows how to smile. They have confidence.”

The parents who returned their cured daughters seemed grateful for what they considered an opportunity for an education. And many advanced their own explanation, a longing for home.

“Maybe if we could talk on the phone once a month ...” suggested Efrén Contreras García, a peasant farmer from Oaxaca.

The girls themselves say they do not know what has caused their illness. “Maybe it’s because of the problems at home,” said Alma Delia Avendaño, 15, on her first day back at school after a week at home, where she had recovered. She said her parents were separated.

Sister Cheong pointed out that many of the girls came from Indian families or regions of the country where superstitions run very deep.

“In talking to the parents, many of them believe that God lives most where evil is most active,” she said.

Or they may believe their illness is a blessing.

María Leyda Aguilar, 14, sat on the gymnasium floor while her classmates went through a dance and aerobics routine. After a month, she is getting better. “I have taken it with joy,” she said of her illness. “Perhaps it was a test that God has given me. Maybe God shows his care this way.”


Oddly mid-April is school shooting season in the US - a link?

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/jon ... tings.html
Mighty_Emperor said:
Here is one from Mexico (not sure if it is the one refered to)

Yes, it is, but the previous accounts I'd seen did not clearly state that this is a school "for the poor." So thanks for this additional material.

The authorities have claimed that the illness is a sympton of the cultural clash between the poor Mexican Roman Catholic female students and the South Korean emigre Roman Catholic nuns staffing the place.

"South Korean emigre." Now where else have I heard that term recently?


Mass fainting in Tanzanian exam

Junior school pupils in Tanzania experienced a mass fainting fit while taking their final year exams, an educational official has told the BBC.

The 20 girls at Ali Hassan Mwinyi School in Tabora started fainting after finishing their first paper.

"I'm not a specialist but I imagine this was a case of mass hysteria that does happen in some of the schools," Midemo Paul Makungu said.

He said it only affected the girls, some of whom took 40 minutes to revive.

"There was chaos, crying, screaming, running after that first paper," Mr Makungu, Tabora's educational officer, told the BBC News website.

More than 140 Standard Seven pupils were taking the national exam at the school in the north of the country.

He said special arrangements were made so that those who had fainted could finish the other two papers they had that day.

"They eventually finished at 11pm," he said.

It is not the first such incident at the school - over the last month there have been several mass fainting fits amongst the girl pupils.

"Normally this happens in girls' secondary schools. It is very common here," Mr Makungu said.

Interesting that Mr Makungu says that this is common, it must be more common in Africa than any other continent. Or is it?
gncxx said:
Interesting that Mr Makungu says that this is common, it must be more common in Africa than any other continent. Or is it?

I keep a file of African Paranormal events and it would appear that "mass hysteria" attacks resulting from a belief that a school is haunted seems especially prevalent there.
OldTimeRadio said:
gncxx said:
Interesting that Mr Makungu says that this is common, it must be more common in Africa than any other continent. Or is it?

I keep a file of African Paranormal events and it would appear that "mass hysteria" attacks resulting from a belief that a school is haunted seems especially prevalent there.

Right. I've only met a couple of Africans in my life, but they were two of the most laid back people I could hope to encounter so it strikes me as strange that there's such things as mass hysteria prevalent there. Not that two people can represent millions, but you know what I mean.
Terrorism Fear Could Create Psychosomatic Epidemic, Feds Warn
http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/0 ... -fear.html

Americans' fear of a terrorism could create a mass outbreak of a psychosomatic illness -- even in the absence of any real attack -- -- creating a fake epidemic that could overwhelm hospitals attempting to treat real victims.

Adding to the confusion, the symptoms of a mass pyschogenic illness look much like symptoms of an anthrax attack, avian flu outbreak or chemical attack.

At least that's what the feds warned hospitals in a nonpublic 2006 communique recently published by the government sunshine site Wikileaks.

Call it a contagious psychosomatic illness -- though the feds preferred to label the phenomenon "psychogenic illness," defining that as:

A phenomenon in which social trauma or anxiety combines with a suspicious event to produce psychosomatic symptoms, such as nausea, difficulty breathing, and paralysis. If many individuals come to believe that the psychosomatic outbreak is connected to the cause of the trauma or anxiety, these symptoms can spread rapidly throughout a population.

In fact, the feds suggest (.pdf) that there's already been a totally terrorism-fear-created illness in California where no one was actually sick from an attack.

In that case, a man walked into a California bank in October 2003, sprayed an aerosol can into the air and then left. Employees and customers became ill, though investigators found there were no biological or chemical agents in the air. (Note proof of this incident is attributed to a November 2003 FBI report that is also considered too sensitive for the public's eyes.)

A similar fear-based illness began in Chechnya -- when 13 kids fell ill with headaches, fevers and numbness, according to the report. Many believed that the kids had been poisoned by a Russian chemical attack and the symptoms quickly spread. Some 87 people, mostly kids, were hospitalized, though there was no evidence of any chemical attack. Officials attributed the illness to anxiety over Russian military activities in the area.

And perhaps most seriously, after the deadly sarin gas attacks in Tokyo in 1995, some 5,000 people went the hospital -- claiming to have symptoms, despite the attack's rather small radius. Twelve people were killed by the gas and 54 others sustained serious injuries.

The analysis recommended that the government and health system educate people about chemical and biological attacks so they can recognize real symptoms, as well as quickly isolating both real and psychosomatic victims in the case of an attack or perceived attack.

The July 5, 2006, analysis entitled Fear of Terrorist Attack Could Trigger Mass Psychogenic Illness* from the the Homeland Infrastructure Threat and Risk Analysis Center is not classified. Instead it is labeled For Official Use Only (FOUO) -- a designation that allows the data to be shared with people without clearances, but away from the public eye. Such material is usually not available through government sunshine requests.

http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/files/ ... s-2006.pdf
Not sure if we have another thread for insane shoppers, but I guess it fits in here.

Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death

The throng of Wal-Mart shoppers had been building all night, filling sidewalks and stretching across a vast parking lot at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y. At 3:30 a.m., the Nassau County police had to be called in for crowd control, and an officer with a bullhorn pleaded for order.

Tension grew as the 5 a.m. opening neared. Someone taped up a crude poster: “Blitz Line Starts Here.”

By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless.

Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.

Some workers who saw what was happening fought their way through the surge to get to Mr. Damour, but he had been fatally injured, the police said. Emergency workers tried to revive Mr. Damour, a temporary worker hired for the holiday season, at the scene, but he was pronounced dead an hour later at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream.

Four other people, including a 28-year-old woman who was described as eight months pregnant, were treated at the hospital for minor injuries.

Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, who is in charge of the investigation for the Nassau police, said the store lacked adequate security. He called the scene “utter chaos” and said the “crowd was out of control.” As for those who had run over the victim, criminal charges were possible, the lieutenant said. “I’ve heard other people call this an accident, but it is not,” he said. “Certainly it was a foreseeable act.”

But even with videos from the store’s surveillance cameras and the accounts of witnesses, Lieutenant Fleming and other officials acknowledged that it would be difficult to identify those responsible, let alone to prove culpability.

Some shoppers who had seen the stampede said they were shocked. One of them, Kimberly Cribbs of Queens, said the crowd had acted like “savages.” Shoppers behaved badly even as the store was being cleared, she recalled.

“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’ ” Ms. Cribbs told The Associated Press. “They kept shopping.”

Wal-Mart security officials and the police cleared the store, swept up the shattered glass and locked the doors until 1 p.m., when it reopened to a steady stream of calmer shoppers who passed through the missing doors and battered door jambs, apparently unaware that anything had happened.

Ugly shopping scenes, a few involving injuries, have become commonplace during the bargain-hunting ritual known as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The nation’s largest retail group, the National Retail Federation, said it had never heard of a worker being killed on Black Friday.

Wal-Mart declined to provide details of the stampede, but said in a statement that it had tried to prepare by adding staff members. Still, it was unclear how many security workers it had at the Valley Stream store for the opening on Friday. The Green Acres Mall provides its own security to supplement the staffs of some large stores, but it did not appear that Wal-Mart was one of them.

A Wal-Mart spokesman, Dan Folgleman, called it a “tragic situation,” and said the victim had been hired from a temporary staffing agency and assigned to maintenance work. Wal-Mart, in a statement issued at its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., said: “The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this tragic time.”

Wal-Mart has successfully resisted unionization of its employees. New York State’s largest grocery union, Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, called the death of Mr. Damour “avoidable” and demanded investigations.

“Where were the safety barriers?” said Bruce Both, the union president. “Where was security? How did store management not see dangerous numbers of customers barreling down on the store in such an unsafe manner? This is not just tragic; it rises to a level of blatant irresponsibility by Wal-Mart.”

While other Wal-Mart stores dot the suburbs around the city, the outlet at Valley Stream, less than two miles from New York City’s southeastern border, draws customers from Queens, Brooklyn and the densely populated suburbs of Nassau County. And it was not the only store in the Green Acres Mall that attracted large crowds.

Witnesses said the crowd outside Wal-Mart began gathering at 9 p.m. on Thursday. The night was not bitterly cold, and the early mood was relaxed. By the early morning hours, the throngs had grown, and officers of the Fifth Precinct of the Nassau County Police Department, who patrol Valley Stream, were out in force, checking on crowds at the mall.

Mr. Damour, who lived in Queens, went into the store sometime during the night to stock shelves and perform maintenance work.

On Friday night, Mr. Damour’s father, Ogera Charles, 67, said his son had spent Thursday evening having Thanksgiving dinner at a half sister’s house in Queens before going directly to work. Mr. Charles said his son, known as Jimmy, was raised in Queens by his mother and worked at various stores in the area after graduating from high school.

Mr. Charles said he had not seen his son in three months, and heard about his death about 7 a.m. Friday, when a friend of Mr. Damour’s called him at home. He arrived at Franklin Hospital Medical Center an hour later to identify the body. Mr. Charles said he was angry that no one from Wal-Mart had contacted him or had explained how his son had died. Maria Damour, Mr. Damour’s mother, was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but was on her way back to the United States, Mr. Charles said.

About the time that Mr. Damour was killed, a shopper at a Wal-Mart in Farmingdale, 15 miles east of Valley Stream, said she was trampled by a crowd of overeager customers, the Suffolk County police reported. The woman sustained a cut on her leg, but finished her shopping before filing the police report, an officer said.

Source (NYT)

This article makes me angry. How callous do you have to be to get annoyed at missing out on your shopping because someone has died?

What the above report doesnt make clear is that the pupils affected weren't actually in the science lab, according to the local tv news.

Science block sealed as Tyneside pupils fall ill

Twenty pupils have been taken to hospital after becoming ill during a science lesson on Tyneside.

The emergency services were called to Valley Gardens Middle School, in North Tyneside, amid fears there had been a gas leak on Monday.

Tests proved negative but the school's science lab has been sealed off and an investigation has started.

The children, who complained of dizziness and nausea, are being kept in North Tyneside Hospital.

They are said to be "fine and improving," a statement from the school said.

North Tyneside Council, the Health Protection Agency, North Tyneside PCT and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust have launched a joint investigation.

Open as usual

A statement from the agencies said: "The pupils were showing a range of symptoms including dizziness and nausea.

"None of their symptoms were serious, but all were kept at the hospital for a period of observation, as a precaution.

"Emergency services attended the school, and the science lab has been isolated as a precaution. The remainder of the school is open."

It is expected the school will be open as usual on Tuesday.

A statement on the school's website said: "Several of our children became ill in school today.

"Symptoms were headaches, dizziness, abdominal pain and raised temperatures.

"A number of youngsters displaying these symptoms were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure.

"Following advice from the emergency services the school was evacuated while a number of tests were carried out by the fire brigade.

"These presented as clear and we were allowed to return to the building."
I'm posting this story here, although it may yet trun out to be a real poisoning incident. I have my doubts.

Taliban poison attack or mass hysteria? Chaos hits another Kabul girls' school

Dozens of pupils treated in hospital as Afghan militants accused of poison attack on girls

guardian.co.uk, Jon Boone in Kabu. 25 August 2010

When the order came to evacuate the Totia high school, hundreds of girls ran from their desks clutching handkerchiefs and their headscarves over their mouths. School bags were abandoned as some leapt out of the ground floor windows of their dilapidated two-storey school block rather than trying to push their way through a melee of teenage girls all rushing to get out to fresh air.

Teachers tried to organise an orderly departure but their efforts were in vain amid rising panic that the school had become the latest in Afghanistan to be hit by an apparent poison gas attack.

A total of 46 students and nine teachers were treated in hospital after what Mohammad Asif Nang, an official at the education ministry, described as "an apparent poisoning" attack by "the enemies of women's education".

According to staff, parents and onlookers, girls began fainting in the school's main classroom block at about 10.30 this morning, during the first of three daily shifts designed to triple the number of girls at the school.

Some victims had to be carried out while others stumbled to the school gates, where about 18 slumped to the ground unconscious, said Abdul Haq, a 15-year-old boy who witnessed the incident.

Many were taken to hospital and most quickly recovered but some girls remained unconscious for several hours, doctors said. Others were vomiting and complaining of nausea.

The symptoms matched those of other cases reported around the country. Opinions are divided between those who denounce the incidents as malicious attacks by social conservatives who disapprove of female education and sceptics who think the culprit is more likely to be mass hysteria.

At the Boost hospital, the head doctor, Abdullah Abid, said four of the 22 girls admitted remained unconscious for at least two hours.

"An ordinary doctor in a hospital cannot say exactly what causes this without further tests, but I think poisoned gas is most likely," he said. "It has happened many times before in Afghanistan."

He said that after studying psychiatry for a year in Pakistan he had become acutely aware of the power of hysteria and its ability to cause physiological responses, but he did not think that was the cause of the latest incident.

"I think three of them were just suffering from shock from seeing their friends become ill. But something else must have happened to the others."

Education ministry officials said five similar cases had been dealt with in Kabul this year alone and eleven more around the country.

I suspect these school cases are a lot more common than gets reported. In fact, there was a possible case of hysterical fainting at a secondary school one of my kids attends, a year, or two back. Mysterious illness, fainting fits, etc. Can't really blame these Afghani girls, considering the stress they must be under so much of the time.
Panic broke out at the Moruga Composite School yesterday as 17 female students fell mysteriously ill and began rolling on the ground, hissing and blabbering in a strange tongue, after suffering bouts of nausea and headaches.

Two of the students reportedly tried to throw themselves off a railing and had to be physically restrained, triggering fears of a possible demon attack.

The drama started during the lunch hour in the Form One block and quickly spread to other areas. Form Five student Kern Mollineau, who attends the Lighthouse Tabernacle Church, said he got worried when the girls’ eyes began rolling up in their heads and they began beating up on the ground.

With the assistance of several other students and teachers, the pupils were taken to the multi-purpose hall where some of them fell into a semi-conscious state. Mollineau recalled: “One girl was blabbering as if in a strange language. I could not understand what she was saying. “It was sounding like ‘shebbaberbebeb shhhhee.’ The girls were unusually strong. We had to hold them down so that they will not hurt themselves. “The teachers were right there. I get a kick in my face when one of the girls started beating up on the floor. Many of them had bruises.”

Mollineau claimed he actually communicated with the “devil which had possessed the girl. “I asked the Devil what he wanted with the girls and the voice said he wanted a life. He kept saying to send the girls in the toilet and to leave them alone,” Mollineau claimed.

Roman Catholic priests, as well as pastors from nearby churches, including Josephine Charles, Deborah Charles and Pastor Gordon, visited the school and began showering the children with holy water and prayers.

Two more students, Kriston Mollineau and Kishon Bethel, said they too were called by teachers to assist the ill girls. Kriston said the girls complained of headaches and some of them wanted to go to the toilet.

Six ambulances arrived at the school accompanied by police teams from the Moruga and St Mary’s Police Post. A party of fire officers from the Princes Town Fire Station, led by acting Assistant Divisional Fire Officer Ramdeo Boodoo visited the school and began conducting several tests on the surroundings to determine the cause of the problem.

Boodoo said there was nothing in the environment to trigger fainting spells, nausea and headaches. A teacher, who requested anonymity, said two weeks ago an Orisha woman came to the school and had a dispute with a member of staff. He said following the dispute, the woman threatened to deal with the school administration. Another teacher said the school was built on a burial site, but neighbours who live around the school denied that was so.

A source at the school confirmed that all 17 pupils were taken to the Princes Town Health Facility where they were medically examined. The other students were sent home at 2 pm.

Responding yesterday, Minister in the Ministry of Education Clifton de Coteau said he was aware that pupils had to be taken for medical attention. De Coteau said Student Support Service officials were sent to the school and students were expected to receive counselling.

A statement from the Ministry of Education said the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) made maxi taxis available to the school to assist the Office for Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) which provided additional ambulances.


maximus otter
This is from the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian. :roll:
Justin Bieber Fever: police hold back hysterical fans outside Liverpool hotel
Justin Bieber has sparked a near-riot in Liverpool as hysterical fans descended upon his hotel.
By Anita Singh, Showbusiness Editor 7:56PM GMT 10 Mar 2011

News that the 17-year-old singer had arrived in the city the day before a planned concert appearance caused pandemonium.
Fifty police officers closed the road and formed a human cordon to keep the outbreak of Bieber Fever under control while the North West Ambulance Service dispatched its Hazardous Area Response Team. Two girls required treatment at Alder Hey children's hospital after fainting with excitement.

The city had seen nothing like it since the height of Beatlemania, a fact not lost on the singer's shrewd publicity team who chose the Beatles-themed Hard Days Night Hotel for Bieber's stay and booked him into the £650-per-night McCartney Suite. 8)
They also circulated a rumour that Bieber had been threatened with arrest for endangering public safety if he stepped out onto his balcony in sight of fans.

Bieber issued a plea to his fans via Twitter, asking them to keep the noise down. It read: "this is crazy. there are like thousands of people out there. love everybody but gonna try and get some sleep. please dont scream. lol"

Will Smith, the Hollywood superstar, was believed to be staying in the hotel but his presence caused barely a stir. However, Twitter rumours that One Direction, the X Factor boyband, had also checked in only added to the schoolgirl hysteria.

Bieber is playing Liverpool's Echo Arena tomorrow but checked in a day early. He arrived at the hotel at 9am and news of his whereabouts travelled fast. Fans began gathering within minutes but the crowds swelled after 3pm when the school day finished.

A hotel insider said: "Justin did intend to go on a Beatles tour of Liverpool but the situation with fans means he can't get out. We counted 50 police officers at one point. The screaming is so loud it could make your ears bleed. At one point he twitched the curtain of his room and that caused a near-riot. :shock:
"The other guests are being very good about it and there have been no complaints. A lot of them have children so they know about Justin Bieber, and there is quite an air of excitement around the hotel. We have a lot of big names here but nobody has ever seen anything like this."

Mike Dewey, the hotel's general manager, said: "We are taking every precaution to ensure the security of the hotel and the safety of our guests."

Bieber's popularity is a phenomenon. Discovered via YouTube, he has the most Googled name in the world and eight million followers on Twitter. His fans refer to themselves as 'Beliebers'.

The city is braced for another day of hysteria tomorrow.
A Merseyside Police spokesman said: "Officers are working with the management of the hotel and with Justin Bieber's security team to ensure his safety, the safety of other guests and of the crowd."
The spokesman added: "Merseyside Police has at no time threatened to arrest Justin Bieber or members of his management team."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebri ... hotel.html
I'm not sure if this consititutes some modern imaginary problem or a real one...

'Wi-fi refugees' shelter in West Virginia mountains
By Jane O'Brien & Matt Danzico BBC News, Green Bank

Dozens of Americans who claim to have been made ill by wi-fi and mobile phones have flocked to the town of Green Bank, West Virginia

There are five billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide and advances in wireless technology make it increasingly difficult to escape the influence of mobile devices. But while most Americans seem to embrace continuous connectivity, some believe it's making them physically ill.

Diane Schou is unable to hold back the tears as she describes how she once lived in a shielded cage to protect her from the electromagnetic radiation caused by waves from wireless communication.

"It's a horrible thing to have to be a prisoner," she says. "You become a technological leper because you can't be around people.

"It's not that you would be contagious to them - it's what they're carrying that is harmful to you."

Ms Schou is one of an estimated 5% of Americans who believe they suffer from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS), which they say is caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields typically created by cell phones, wi-fi and other electronic equipment.
Hiding in a cage

Symptoms range from acute headaches, skin burning, muscle twitching and chronic pain.
Diane Schou in West Virginia Diane Schou says she was forced to live in a shielded cage in Iowa, prior to moving to West Virginia

"My face turns red, I get a headache, my vision changes, and it hurts to think. Last time [I was exposed] I started getting chest pains - and to me that's becoming life threatening," Ms Schou says.

To alleviate the pain, her husband built an insulated living space known as a Faraday Cage.

He covered a wooden frame with two layers of wire mesh and a door that could be sealed shut to prevent radio waves from entering.

Diane spent much of her time inside it, sleeping on a twin mattress on a plywood base.

"At least I could see my husband on the outside, I could talk to him," she says.

Diane believes her illness was triggered by emissions from a mobile phone mast.

Her symptoms were so severe that she abandoned her family farm in the state of Iowa and moved to Green Bank, West Virginia - a tiny village of 143 residents in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains.
Outlawed wireless technology

Green Bank is part of the US Radio Quiet Zone, where wireless is banned across 13,000 sq miles (33,000 sq km) to prevent transmissions interfering with a number of radio telescopes in the area.

The largest is owned by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and enables scientists to listen to low-level signals from different places in the universe.

Others are operated by the US military and are a critical part of the government's spy network.

As a result of the radio blackout, the Quiet Zone has become a haven for people like Diane, desperate to get away from wireless technology.
The radio telescope in Green Bank The world's largest, fully steerable radio telescope is operated in the town of Green Bank

"Living here allows me to be more of a normal person. I can be outdoors. I don't have to stay hidden in a Faraday Cage," she says.

"I can see the sunrise, I can see the stars at night, and I can be in the rain.

"Here in Green Bank allows me to be with people. People here do not carry cells phones so I can socialise.

"I can go to church, I can attend some celebrations, I can be with people. I couldn't do that when I had to remain in the Faraday Cage."

But EHS is not medically recognised in the US.
Debated 'condition'

The wireless association, CTIA, says that scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that wireless devices, with the limits established by government regulators, do not pose a public health risk or cause any adverse health effects.

And the World Health Organization, while acknowledging that the symptoms are genuine and can be severe, says: "EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem."

However, new research by scientists at Louisiana State University and published by the International Journal of Neuroscience, claims to show that EHS can be caused by low frequency electromagnetic fields found in the environment.

"The study provides direct evidence that linking human symptoms with environmental factors, in this case EMF," says Dr Andrew Marino, a neurology professor who led the study.

"It's a watershed in that regard. There have been no previous studies that scientifically assess whether electromagnetic fields in the environment could produce human symptoms," he says.

"And the symptoms matter because they are the first steps that show how EMFs produce human disease."

Scientists conducted a number of tests on a 35-year-old physician who had diagnosed herself with EHS.

She was seated on a wooden chair while voltage was applied to metal plates for pulses of 90 seconds to create a series of magnetic fields. The woman was asked to describe her symptoms after each exposure and after random sham exposures when, unknown to her, there was no voltage.

She reported headaches, pain and muscle twitching during the genuine exposures and no symptoms for the majority of the sham exposures.

The scientists concluded that such consistency could not be attributed to chance.

But other experts still disagree that a link exists.

Technological 'ignorance'

Bob Park is a physics professor at the University of Maryland.

He says that the radiation emitted by wi-fi is simply too weak to cause the type of changes in the body's chemistry that could make people sick.

"The bigger problem that we face is that in our society, driven by technological change, people have very little education," he says.

"There are lots of things people need to learn and they're not learning it. The thing that's going to kill them is ignorance."

Seventy-year-old Nichols Fox says she understands such scepticism - it took several years before she became convinced that her debilitating pain and fatigue were caused by electromagnetic radiation emitted by her computer.

"Towards the end of my normal life when I still could watch television I could actually cut my pain off and on with the remote control device," she says. "It was such an enormously clear association there was just no denying it."

Her symptoms are so severe that she has isolated herself almost entirely, living in a remote house surrounded by fields and woods just outside the Quiet Zone - she says even the low-level electromagnetic fields generated there affect her health.

She uses hardly any electricity - her refrigerator operates on gas, light comes from kerosene lamps and a wood-burning stove provides most of her heat.

A thermostat is set to switch on electric heaters if the temperature drops to a level where she is in danger of hypothermia.

"It's so important that people understand that this is a very serious disability, it's a life changing disability. It leads to an earlier death - I have absolutely no doubt about that and I think it's just unfortunate that this is not recognised," she says.

But even in this secluded part of America, the incursion of wireless technology is relentless. Planning permission has been granted for a cell tower a few miles from her home and Nichols says she'll have to move.

"I'm getting older and I really don't know where I'm going to go or what I'm going to do," she says. "It's really quite frightening."

BBC Source
Many more questions than answers, but this BBC report is very interesting:


30 January 2012 Last updated at 21:19 GMT

High school students in the small community of Leroy, New York State, have been coming down with strange tics and verbal outbursts, with no obvious cause.

Some medics believe their symptoms are brought on by mass hysteria, but now environmental activist Erin Brockovich has said she believes a toxic chemical spill 40 years ago could be to blame for the mysterious illness.

Edit: sky has more:
Mystery US outbreak prompts further tests
http://www.nature.com/news/mystery-us-o ... ts-1.10052
Tourette’s-like disorder in New York school confounds experts.

Alison Motluk
20 February 2012

Several students at LeRoy Central School District in northwestern New York state have developed a mysterious Tourette's-like condition, leaving doctors baffled as to the cause.

Last week, officials with the LeRoy Central School District in northwestern New York state approved a plan for further environmental testing at the town’s high school, where 19 people — 18 girls and one boy — have developed a sudden-onset disorder with symptoms similar to the movement disorder Tourette’s syndrome. The outbreak has captured national attention and led experts to suggest an array of possible explanations — none of which seem to quite work. With speculation running high, here is a look at the facts surrounding the outbreak.

How and when did the symptoms appear?
Several of the girls report that the symptoms seemed to come out of nowhere — one minute they were asleep, the next they had woken and developed uncontrollable movements and vocalizations. Their tics could be dramatic: arms twitching or jolting out to one side, speech chopped up by nonsense utterings, head jerking, eyes blinking. Some girls have also had blackouts and seizures. The first case was in May last year, the second in early September. By the end of October, eight students were affected. That is when the New York State Department of Health was called in to investigate.

Is there some contaminant in the school?
If there is, no one has found it yet. The high school was built in 2003 and has about 630 students. School officials commissioned air-quality testing in late December, measuring levels of 58 volatile organic chemicals, 63 pesticides and herbicides, 11 metals, cyanide, polychlorinated biphenyls and ketones. They found nothing amiss. They also found no evidence of fungus or mould and no problems with ventilation. Water was tested at two locations inside the school as well as at the point where the municipal supply enters the school, and the water quality seems fine.

What do the students’ doctors think?
Eight of the girls have been diagnosed with 'conversion disorder', or mass hysteria. (Three of the girls had reported prior tic problems.) Cases of conversion disorder generally occur among people who are in close contact with each other. Usually there is a trigger, such as a smell, and then one person becomes ill, followed by many others. The sickness seems to be organic, but investigations identify no physical cause. Females are affected more often than males. In such cases, the symptoms are distinct: for instance seizures occur without characteristic changes in an electroencephalogram. The condition is rare, but the health department’s report cites a few other cases in the medical literature. One describes a Tennessee high school at which the smell of gas, with no evidence of an actual gas leak, led to dozens of reports of illness. But the LeRoy situation doesn’t fit the diagnosis very well, say sceptics. The cases emerged over many months, and the students ranged in age from 13 to 19 years and were in five different grades. They did not spend time with each other and, at first, were not aware of each other’s symptoms.

Could it be an infection?
There is growing awareness that a bacterial infection can lead to sudden-onset tics. Known as PANDAS, or PANS, the syndrome is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. Again, however, these students’ cases don’t quite fit. None reported a serious infection immediately before the symptoms set in, they are older than is typical for the disorder, and PANS usually affects boys more than girls and doesn’t usually present in clusters. There is no definitive test for the condition, but to the extent that blood can hint at past infections, only some of the girls have evidence of recent bacterial infection.

What about environmental toxins?
This is a question that continues to haunt locals, because in December 1970, LeRoy was the site of a train derailment that spilt one tonne of what the Environmental Protection Agency describes as "cyanide crystals" and more than 114,000 litres of the industrial solvent trichloroethene (TCE). The spill site is about 5.6 kilometres from the school and, although there is groundwater contamination, it is well monitored and does not extend to the school area. Gravel from a quarry near the spill site was used to construct a playing field at the school. But water in the school was specifically tested for traces of TCE and levels were not elevated. Also, although TCE exposure has been linked to many conditions — for example, nausea, liver damage and cancer — tics are not among them. The only possible link is that it may increase the risk of another movement disorder, Parkinson’s disease.

Could the human papillomavirus vaccine be involved?
Only seven of the girls had received the vaccine and, in each case, more than a year had elapsed between the last dose and the onset of symptoms. Tics are not a known side effect of the vaccine (Gardasil).

What happens next?
Some of those affected have now recovered. School officials have approved further testing of both the air and the soil, but still insist that there is no danger to other students.

Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10052
This time in the Gambia. The articles puts the events in the context of Islam in the country taking on board some nativist beliefs.

Evil spirits in frame for strange goings-on at Gambian school
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/wor ... 35607.html

Fri, Apr 06, 2012

Traditional beliefs vie with Islamic orthodoxy, as society grapples with girls’ odd behaviour

WHEN, EARLIER last month, up to 100 teenage girls at a large secondary school in the Gambia began to faint uncontrollably in class and were seemingly overcome by fits of screaming and shrieking, it might be assumed that the reaction would be one of scepticism, incredulity or even a little amusement.

Perhaps one or even two occurrences might just be considered plausible, but dozens of pupils reportedly collapsed during class, apparently overwhelmed by uncontrollable outbursts, resulting in a temporary release from their studies.

Were such an episode to occur in an Irish classroom, it would likely be attributed to adolescent histrionics, attention-seeking behaviour mimicked by impressionable classmates in an attempt to get a few days away from the classroom. An elaborate version of “pulling a sickie”.

However, here in the Gambia, the response from education and religious leaders has taken a different form. Officials have publicly attributed the happenings to the malign intervention of “evil spirits”, known locally as jinneh. Supposedly, these jinneh have been tormenting young girls across the country for several years now.

Accounts from the affected institution, the Ming Daw Upper Basic School in Farato, describe how the events began to unfold at 10am when 30 pupils were initially affected. Local media reports describe how “some of the affected pupils were screaming and running away from people”. Attempts to restrain them were hampered because apparently “it was difficult for anyone to control them, as they seemed to possess extra powers”.

The school was immediately closed for the rest of the day.

However, it seems that it was not to be a one-off occurrence. Speaking on a visit to the school the next day, the regional educational director with responsibility for the school described the scene he encountered: “While I was driving past the school, I saw a good number of students standing outside. I stopped and entered the school and all I could see again were students falling and screaming on the ground all over the school campus.”

The director explained that at a Parent Teachers Association meeting convened following a similar previous occurrence there was unanimity as to the cause of the incident: “We agreed that the phenomenon has something to do with spiritual powers. Whenever the evil spirits attack someone, he or she becomes very powerful, making it difficult for three or even four people to control him or her.”

In an attempt to counter the evil spirits, the director has said he plans to invite Islamic scholars to the school to recite the Holy Qur’an, while he also appealed to parents to change their children’s attire, encouraging girls to wear longer dresses and keep their heads covered. “Their skirts need to be thoroughly looked into, as many of the female students’ uniforms are very short,” he said.

In a country with an overwhelmingly Muslim population – 90 per cent of the population adhere to the faith – Islamic religious leaders have also verified the existence of these jinneh and spoken about their damaging impact.

Abdoulie Fatty, the imam of the State House, claims there are both good and bad jinneh. He said: “Anyone attacked by the bad spirit always possesses extra power because when the spirit enters any of its victims’ blood, it gives additional strength that makes the person convulse.”

A few days back, in order to help counteract their destructive influence he urged every school to take their morning devotion seriously to help conquer these evil spirits.

The Gambia, as seems to be the case in many parts of West Africa, exhibits this particular juxtaposition of conventional religious practices with supernaturalism.

All communities, even small villages, are likely to have a resident official imam who will lead his congregation at the call to prayer and is considered the head of the local mosque. However, equally, there will probably be another variety of religious leader known as a marabout.

These individuals keep pre-Islamic practices alive and perform supposed paranormal-like activities such as foreseeing the future and making amulets known as “jujus”. These jujus purportedly have supernatural powers and can stave off misfortune, protect against ill-health or bestow someone with magical physical strength.

Significantly, marabouts tend to exist principally in West African Muslim states and are not found in Middle Eastern or Asian Islamic nations.

The rationale for this might be that prior to the arrival and subsequent acceptance of mainstream religious like Islam and Christianity, multiple spiritual traditions existed and functioned actively within the culture. So when Muslim proselytisers established the religion in the Gambia during the 19th century, they did not succeed in entirely eradicating the old beliefs. On the contrary, these long-established and deep-rooted practices are still very much part of the country’s psyche.

Tellingly, in this incident, the parents of those girls allegedly possessed by spirits eschewed treatment from mainstream medicine. The regional director reported that: “A number of doctors and nurses came to the scene in an effort to control the affected pupils, but as the news spread quickly, parents ran to the school to take away their children back home.”

I suspect that the local marabout is in for a busy few days. A classic case of “old habits dying hard”.

Daniel English is in the Gambia on a 12-month placement as an accompanying volunteer with Voluntary Service Overseas. He is working with the Gambian Press Union, an organisation that promotes press freedom and media development in the Gambia, and with Concern Universal. In Ireland, he has worked as a media and communications officer with the Health Service Executive and the Houses of the Oireachtas
If these outbreaks are chemical, why is it mostly females affected?
Fear in the classrooms: is the Taliban poisoning Afghanistan's schoolgirls?
Hundreds in hospital – but are terror attacks on schools to blame, or mass hysteria?
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world ... 8463.html#

Hundreds of Afghan schoolchildren have been admitted to hospital in the past six weeks after falling victim to what appears to be six separate major poison attacks. Three alleged attacks have occurred in northern Takhar province in the past week alone, affecting more than 300 girls.

Some government and police officials have blamed the poison attacks on the Taliban, whose hostility to girls' education during its hardline rule in the 1990s is well documented. Others have blamed the "enemies of Afghanistan" and hinted at the involvement of Pakistan and Iran.

Tests by the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and government, however, have not found any toxic substances. One international expert has said the scares have all the hallmarks of mass hysteria.

In the most recent attack, on Tuesday, 170 girls in Takhar's provincial capital, Taloqan, were taken to hospital after falling ill and losing consciousness. Pupils blamed poisonous gas, claiming to have sniffed a noxious odour on entering their classroom at Ahan Dara Girls' High School. Students at Bibi Haji school also blamed toxic gas for poisoning them in two separate attacks on 23 May and 27 May. Girls at another school in Takhar became ill in April and said the drinking water in their well had been deliberately contaminated.

More than 200 boys at a school in eastern Khost province also fell sick in mid-May as well as 100 girls in northern Balkh province said on 9 May. Their school said its well had been poisoned.

Symptoms have included vomiting, nausea and fainting. In all cases, most pupils who were admitted to hospital were released on the same day and no long-term damage was done.

On each occasion, the local authorities sent blood samples from poisoned students for tests and launched an investigation into the circumstances.

Gul Agha Ahmadi, a media adviser at the Ministry of Education in Kabul, told The Independent that officials were awaiting test results from the most recent poison scares but that results from tests done after the incidents in April and early May had failed to show the presence of harmful substances.

Isaf tests into the Khost incident also showed no harmful substances present. The "initial laboratory test of multiple air, water and material samples were negative for any organic compounds such as poisons or other toxic material," an Isaf spokesman said. "Further tests continue, but at this point it is unlikely that any foreign substance caused the reported symptoms."

Mr Ahmadi said mass hysteria could not be ruled out, because Afghan people live in constant fear of insurgent attacks and could easily imagine terrorists poisoning their drinking water.

Robert Bartholomew, a prominent sociologist, also told the AFP news agency that the poisoning scare had "the tell-tale signs" of mass hysteria.

He said, "the preponderance of schoolgirls; the absence of a toxic agent; transient, benign symptoms; rapid onset and recovery; plausible rumours; the presence of a strange odour; and anxiety generated from a wartime backdrop" all pointed to mass hysteria. As a result of having been at war for more than 30 years, half the Afghan population suffers from psychological problems, according to Bashir Ahmad Sarwari, the head of the government's mental health department.

Not everyone is buying the mass hysteria theory. Lotfullah Mashal, a National Directorate of Intelligence spokesman, said closing schools was part of the Taliban's spring offensive.

But the Islamic group vehemently denied involvement. "If found in any part of the country, those doing such activities would be given punishment according to sharia," it said.

As many as 550 schools affecting 300,000 pupils have been shut down in 11 provinces where the Taliban has a robust presence, the Ministry of Education said. The insurgents threaten schools partly because they do not support the government curriculum.
Afghans fear mysterious school 'poisonings'
By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Kabul

A mysterious wave of sickness has affected a number of schools in Afghanistan. Hundreds of schoolgirls have been taken to hospital, and many teachers and officials suspect poisoners are to blame. But no poison has yet been found.

At the Bibi Hajera School in northern Afghanistan's Takhar province, the day begins differently now.

The girls arrive in their clean white headscarves, but before they enter the classroom, their teachers search them. Each girl is patted down, even the smallest, and their schoolbags are opened and inspected.

On 23 May, class after class fell ill. By the end of the week, more than 40 were sick, and the school closed. Deliberate poisoning of the school water pump was suspected.

"First one or two of the girls was sick, then more," said Naziah, who hasn't reached her teens and wants to become a doctor one day.

Continue reading the main story
School 'poison attacks'

3 July 2012: More than 250 girls taken to hospital in Sheberghan province with symptoms of poisoning
29 May: About 50 schoolgirls in Takhar province taken to hospital complaining of nausea
23 May: More than 120 girls taken to hospital in Takhar
15 May: Several hundred pupils taken ill in suspected attack on boys' school in Khost province
9 May: About 100 schoolgirls and eight teachers taken to hospital in Balkh province
18 April: More than 100 schoolgirls fall ill in a suspected attack in Takhar
12 May 2009: About 90 girls fall ill in one of the first reported poisoning attacks, in Kapisa province
"One of my classmates was in the school garden and she fell down and they took her to hospital. Some were sick on the street, some were sick at home."

The school principal, Abdul Hai, has no doubt that an attack was to blame.

"Outside interference was responsible, the Afghan Taliban aren't sophisticated enough to develop poisons. This was caused by the enemies of Afghanistan and our government," he said.

The school had received no threats, no warnings that it would be targeted, he added.

All summer long, local and international television channels have broadcast updates of the suspected attacks. Girls fell sick in other provinces too - Khost, Bamiyan and Nangarhar.

The pictures are disturbing - young girls in hospital beds with drips attached, some wailing, others fainting.

At times local officials have given conflicting information - that the sickness was caused by poisons, then blaming mass hysteria. The girls usually left hospital within hours. None has died.

Afghan girls are treated for "poisoning" in hospital north of Kabul in 2009
The images of the young women, in what appeared to be considerable pain and certainly a great deal of distress, have caused outrage. In some incidents the finger of blame has been pointed at the Taliban.

The insurgents, who banned female education during their rule, were obvious suspects, in the view of the Afghan authorities.

Continue reading the main story
Majid Nusrat
Media analyst, BBC Monitoring
The Afghan media are in no doubt these "poisonings" are malicious attacks - even if the evidence is far from clear.

"It's unprecedented in the history of Afghanistan for miillions of children to be attending school. This troubles the extremist groups," reported leading daily Hasht-e Sobh on 3 July.

"Despite new attempts by the Ministry of Education to convince the Taliban... to refrain from attacks on schools, the Taliban and other anti-government armed groups are still trying to disrupt education," Daily Afghanistan said on 2 July.

State TV pulled no punches on 2 July. "The Taliban have killed many pupils and teachers, sprayed poison at schools or acid at pupils, closed and burned down schools and threatened education officials," it said.

A day later pro-government daily Sarnawesht pointed out most attacks had taken place in northern provinces, where the Taliban are weak. "Assuming they are behind these attacks, why don't they do the same in the south?" it asked. It suggested a third group might be "trying to harm the image of both the government and the armed opposition".

The Taliban have denied involvement and issued a statement, attacking the "false allegations of the invaders and their hired media", which were "part of the media war and have no reality".

One of the first attacks was in Rustaq village in Takhar province. Five separate water samples were taken from, in and around the Dabiristan Girls High School by the Ministry of Public Health. No soil or air samples were taken.

But Afghanistan doesn't have the technology to analyse the results itself, so the international mission in Afghanistan, Isaf, sent the samples to a laboratory outside the country. There was no trace of anything suspicious.

"Only naturally occurring bacteria was found - no evidence of toxins," said Isaf spokesman, Lt Col Jimmie Cummings.

But girls continued to fall ill. Parents demanded answers, and action, from the government.

Some 31 samples are now being tested in the lab, from other suspected poisonings. The results are expected in the coming weeks.

By early June, 14 suspects had been arrested and transferred to a prison in Kabul, run by the Afghan intelligence agency, the NDS.

But most of those held have been released, but earlier this week, I was invited inside to meet three of the remaining suspects.

Coached by an intelligence officer, Najibullah tells the BBC he gave bottles of poison to two girls
There was no lawyer present. And before the interview with each prisoner began, an officer from the intelligence service (NDS) gave him brief directions on how to answer.

The three are accused of being a supply chain that brought two bottles of poison from Pakistan, via Kunar province, to Takhar. They are suspected of carrying out as many as six attacks, including the one on Bibi Hajera school.

One suspect, Najibullah, a school teacher himself, told me he gave two bottles of poison and 50,000 Afghanis ($1,000) to two girls, to use. One of the bottles was used.

"It was wrong," he told me, as the NDS looked on. "It was un-Islamic, and it was my fault. I made a mistake."

Another man, Mullah Yakub, admitted being a member of the Taliban. He said he helped transport the liquids used in the attack. The third, Nooragha, denies any involvement.

He said: "It came from Pakistan, but I don't have more information, so how can I explain it? On the radio, the Taliban have denied they poisoned schoolgirls."

The pressure to find the people responsible for hurting the schoolgirls has been enormous. All three men will soon be handed over to the attorney general for prosecution.

And in the absence of any physical evidence of toxins, others question whether the attacks are real.

Shrafudin Azemi, a lecturer in psychology at Kabul University, believes the stresses of years of conflict, and the power of the media, have caused panic among Afghan schoolgirls.

"It's basically a psychological issue - the medical and criminal investigations indicate mental harm, not physical harm, to the victims. Afghanistan has been at war for 30 years, people here are suffering under great stress," he said.

At Bibi Hajera school, all the girls have returned. They are again drinking from the school well, which many still believe was poisoned.

But the evidence is far from solid, the facts puzzling.

There are some here who want to stop girls going to school, but whether they resorted to poisoning is a mystery that, so far, remains unsolved.
Ohho, no poison, but we are still told there are poisoners...
Real or hysteria?

Almost 100 Afghan schoolgirls poisoned in suspected gas attack
http://rt.com/news/afghanistan-girls-sc ... soned-139/

Some 97 girls from two schools in northern Afghanistan have reportedly been hospitalized after falling sick as a result of suspected gas poisoning.

In Maimana, the capital of Faryab province, a total of 77 girls from the same school were taken to hospital on Saturday afternoon after they fell ill, Afghan Pajhwok news agency reported on Sunday.

“When the girls started falling unconscious, our teacher saw a man fleeing to the school’s orchard,” the agency quoted one of the students from the Jamshidi School. The girls also asked the government to step up security around schools and punish those behind “poisoning children.”

Another similar incident occurred the same day in the town of Behsud, where 20 girls in a local secondary school fell ill for unknown reason. All of them were also taken to hospital for treatment - their condition is non-threatening.

Police, who searched the building, said they found no suspicious objects that could cause health problems among the girls. They do not rule out heat and the unhygienic conditions that the children endure, as a reason.

However, one of the girls who fell sick said that there was “bad smell” in the classroom when they got there in the morning and just an hour later several girls fainted. She pointed out that serious attention is given to cleanliness in her school.

Education Director Abdul Ghafoor linked the illness to fears among schoolchildren about gas attacks.

These two incidents are the latest in a string of suspicious cases when dozens of girls were simultaneously falling sick. Similar cases were reported in May in Faryab and Balkh provinces where 80 and 150 girls respectively fell ill after alleged gas attacks on their schools.

In April, 74 girls were hospitalized when they became ill after noting a gas smell in the air in their school in the Taluqan, the capital of the Takhar Province. Four poisoning attacks in girls’ schools hit the province last year, prompting local officials to order the head teachers to stay at school until late, to test the water for contaminates and for staff to search the grounds for suspicious looking objects.

Militants who oppose giving girls the right to education have been blamed for the alleged poisonings. However, the Taliban denied their involvement in the attacks, saying they “strongly condemn” such actions, vowing to punish those behind them, the movement’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the BBC earlier in the week.

Women in Afghanistan got back basic rights after the Taliban were ousted in 2001. Females, especially in the capital Kabul, returned to schools – which they were banned from during the Taliban regime in 1996-2001. Now, as the Western coalition forces prepare to withdraw their forces, it is feared that the situation may get worse again.
This time its being blamed on the HPV vaccine.

Mystery illness plagues girls in Colombia

First their hands and feet feel cold. Then they go pale and cannot move. Some convulse and fall to the floor.

A mystery illness is plaguing girls in this town in northern Colombia, and locals say a vaccine against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV, is to blame.
In El Carmen de Bolivar, near the port of Cartagena, dozens of teenagers have experienced similar symptoms. Some have even lost consciousness.

"They vaccinated me in May and I started fainting in August. My legs became heavy and I couldn't feel my hands anymore. When I woke up, I was in the hospital," recalled 15-year-old Eva Mercado. She passed out seven times in a month.

For most of the families affected in this town of 67,000, there is no doubt about what is causing the problem. They place the blame squarely on a vaccination campaign against HPV, one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, which can trigger cervical cancer.

The city's modest Nuestra Senora del Carmen hospital has been overwhelmed by a surge of unconscious teenage girls being wheeled through its doors.
Panicked fathers bring their daughters to the facility aboard their motorcycles, using the town's dirt roads. Doctors search, in vain, for possible cases of hypoglycemia or drug abuse. According to hospital official Augusto Agamez, about 370 minors have checked into the facility. There was also one boy among them. ...

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