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Twitching mystery patients show signs of recovery

By Julia Talanova, CNN
updated 9:57 PM EST, Fri February 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some of the high school girls are feeling better
  • Some students on antibiotics also improving
  • The incidents occurred in the small New York town of LeRoy

(CNN) -- Doctors for several people in New York suffering from a mystery disorder that led them to develop tic-like symptoms say their patients are starting to feel better.

Out of more than a dozen who developed uncontrollable twitching and verbal tics, three say they feel completely better and six say they are significantly better, according to Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, medical director at DENT Neurologic Institute in western New York.

"The media focus, the questions on whether it is environmental or toxins, all that adds confusion, anxiety and difficulty," said Mechtler, who has treated some of his patients with psychotherapy and behavioral therapy, as well as prescribed medication for anti-anxiety, depression and headaches.

A second doctor from New Jersey, Dr. Rosario Trifiletti, diagnosed some of the patients with PANDAS -- Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections -- and has been treating them with antibiotics.

Lana Clarks, mother of one of Trifiletti's patients, told HLN's "Dr. Drew" that her daughter, Lauren Scalzo, has fewer "headaches, stomachaches, no tic-ing and she's been more energetic."

Marge Fitzsimmons, 36, who is among those who came down with the mysterious symptoms, says she is still experiencing some symptoms but feels much better and is soon expected to return to work full time.

The incidents occurred in the small town of LeRoy beginning in mid-October. All of the patients -- with the exception of Fitzsimmons -- are students at LeRoy Junior-Senior High School.

Doctors have diagnosed most of them with conversion disorder, saying that stress is the likely root of their physical problems.

"What happens is there is traditionally some kind of stress or multiple stressors that provoke a physical reaction within the body," said Dr. Jennifer McVige, a neurologist who has evaluated several of the teens. "This is unconscious, it is not done purposefully and it's almost like ... the stress wells up in your body has to come out in some way shape or form."

The medical mystery in LeRoy has attracted the attention of activist and investigator Erin Brockovich, who came to the village of 8,000 people in western New York after learning about a 41-year-old toxic spill a few miles from the school. Brockovich and an associate suspect that the illnesses are related to the cyanide and trichloroethylene (TCE) that was spilled during a December 1970 train wreck.

CNN's Sheila Steffen contributed to this report.

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