Is Mexico facing a new kind of epidemic? Since September, episodes of mass fainting have affected 227 middle and high school students at six schools in four different states. The Mexican authorities have decided to open an investigation to determine the origin of the phenomenon. This could also make it possible to temper the psychosis and calm the anger of the parents of students.
The mysterious phenomenon began on September 23 at the high school in the town of Tapachula in the province of Chiapas, in the south of the country. According to the account of the Business Insider Mexico media, Esmeralda, 12, comes out of the toilet of her establishment, when suddenly she loses consciousness. Her best friend Diala, who was accompanying her, fainted a few seconds after her. Two discomforts that will not remain isolated. In the same hour, ten high school students collapse without explanation. Later that day, 22 Tapachula students reported suffering from vomiting and headaches. Symptoms, which a posteriori, are common to all these fainting spells. To explain the event, the food served in the canteen is studied... without success. Toxicological tests are carried out on the victims. They will all come out negative. The authorities eventually conclude that the students simply suffered from a panic attack.
The case could have ended there, but two weeks later, 68 teenagers lost consciousness in the village of Bochil, more than 200 kilometers from Tapachula. There too tests are made on the students: only four are positive for cocaine. Four days later, the phenomenon hits Tapachula again. This time, 18 students are victims of an inexplicable malaise. Over the next two months, four high schools in other states are hit with mass blackouts.
Months pass and the situation returns to normal. However, the phenomenon remains unexplained by the authorities and the concern of parents remains. The local press seized on the affair and several explanations flourished. For the events taking place in the high school of Tapachula, the Mexican newspaper Milenio evokes a gas leak which would have been detected in the establishment. The Mexican branch of the daily El País, tells him about water contaminated by "an unknown substance" in the Chiapas region. Theories that will be swept away by the investigation. Food poisoning and Covid-19 are for a time mentioned as the causes of this phenomenon, before being refuted.
A new scenario could however explain the phenomenon. Mexican authorities have discovered that there is indeed a connection between certain groups of teenagers: WhatsApp loops. In an interview with Slate, Dr. Robert Bartholomew, professor of psychology, suggests that this would be the first case of mass hysteria spread online. This rare phenomenon occurs when a person exhibits unexpected behavior - such as fainting - and others nearby unwittingly reproduce the symptoms. According to the psychologist, the victims of the first psychosis talked about it on social networks, which spread it to other cities. “Before, for this to happen, you had to be in the same room. But social media has become an extension of our senses. I think we are on the way to a larger and more global epidemic,” says Robert Bartholomew. For the moment the theory has not been validated by the Mexican authorities.