Mystery illness strikes scores of French pupils

Hundreds of French school children have fallen victim to a mystery sickness that has spread like wildfire through their school. All classes have been suspended and baffled health authorities have advised the school to close, while they try to determine the cause of the outbreak.

Mystery illness strikes scores of French pupils
A mystery illness has struck hundreds of pupils at a French school. Photo: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP

Since January at least 227 pupils at their school in south-western France have reported headaches, dizziness, vertigo and trouble breathing, but health authorities, despite carrying out multiple tests, are no closer to determining the cause.

Earlier this week regional health authorities in Aquitaine recommended “as a measure of precaution” closing part of the College Jean-Moulin in Artix, French magazine L’Express reported. The school apparently remains open for the moment, but all classes have been suspended.

So far the most promising lead was the series of renovations completed at the secondary (junior high) school over the winter holidays. It was shortly after classes resumed in January that pupils began reporting symptoms.    

The head of the Aquitaine regional health authority told L’Express they were baffled by the outbreak of sickness.

“This is an unexplained phenomenon. We carried out multiple environmental analyses, starting with carbon monoxide tests, and so far everything’s come back negative,” Michel Laforcade said.

Health inspectors have also checked for volatile compounds that could be in the air after the renovations, perhaps coming from the glue used to attach the carpet or materials in the furniture, but that also proven to be a dead end.

The hypothesis of a psychosomatic cause has not been ruled out for the moment, but it doesn’t seem likely in Laforcade’s view.

“We don’t believe that this many illnesses could have a social cause,” He told L’Express.

As their investigation continues, health authorities plan to keep a close eye on the children who have been withdrawn from school due to illness. They also expect to carry out a complete analysis of every material used in the school in an effort to find the cause.

Finding the culprit will take as long as it takes, Laforcarde said, adding: “This is really unheard of and all hypotheses bare exploring. We will pass on the information as we get it."

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