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June 27, 2013

Wide net cast in hiccups probe

DANVERS — State health officials continue to quietly investigate what may have caused one to two dozen students to exhibit unexplained vocal tics or repetitive hiccups at Essex Agricultural and Technical School in Danvers and, to a lesser extent, North Shore Technical High in Middleton, this past school year.

The state is reaching out to more than 2,600 doctors in the region while investigating environmental factors that may have caused the symptoms, including air testing and visual observations inside school buildings. So far, according to a May 10 status report from the state Department of Public Health, air tests did not turn up anything that would contribute to “significant neurological effects.”

Danvers Health Director Peter Mirandi, in an update to the Board of Health on May 30, said the state is casting a wide net to gather information from doctors and their patients.

“They will be looking for correlations between the symptoms and the students,” Mirandi said. “The effort from the Department of Public Health is very thoughtful, deliberate, and I wouldn’t mind recognizing them for stepping up when we needed assistance.”

The wide net is necessary because Essex Aggie is an independent, state-owned agricultural and technical school of 479 students that provides transportation for students living within a 20-mile radius of its Hathorne campus along Route 62.

North Shore Technical High in Middleton, which has 475 students, reportedly had a handful of cases. It draws students from 16 communities on the North Shore.

A spokesman for the state Department of Public Health had no update on the investigation.

“It’s a very extensive process, and there is no report that I have,” said Ann Roach, media relations manager for the state Department of Public Health.

Joy White, the director/principal for Essex Aggie, referred all comments to the Department of Public Health but did provide two status updates from the department, one from February and one from May, both of which were distributed to parents, she said.

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