A mysterious epidemic is emerging in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic — a sudden upsurge of physical and vocal convulsions among teenagers, particularly girls, called ticcing.

Tics are fast and repetitive movements of the muscles that cause sudden, difficult to control body jolts. Some examples of tics include: blinking, grinning, sudden jerks and repeated sounds or phrases.

Clinicians are now reporting more common symptoms, such as severe convulsions, self hitting, and repeated repetitions of certain words, such as “beans”

The causes of tics are not known. However, they usually appear around five years old. Over time, however the symptoms improve and disappear. According to the NHS, they are quite common and can affect as many as one fifth of children.

Evie Meg: The influencer has 14 million followers and posts videos of her Tourette’s symptoms

British doctors have reported a new type of tic disorder in response to the pandemic. It is much more severe and occurs more rapidly. The disorder affects teenagers and young adults and is most commonly affecting females.

Experts agree that this condition could be caused by the psychological pressures of lockdown. Pandemic fear, climate change and pandemic anxiety can cause vulnerable young people to “catch” tics online from those who are more well-known for their symptoms.

Good Health spoke to Dr Tammy Hedderly who is a paediatric neurologist at Evelina London NHS Children’s Hospital. She said that they have more than doubled their referral rate for tics over the last few months with 70 young girls receiving professional assistance. That is quite alarming.

“As specialists, our focus is on the severely affected, so it’s not possible to see many more.

As well as appearing more in girls — and in a later age group than normally seen — the new tic condition’s symptoms are markedly different, says Dr Hedderly.

“Normally, tics are gradual in their onset. But the new ones suddenly appear,” she said. These patients present from 13-15 years old with sudden florid attacks.

“And instead of face and eye tics [such as twitching and eye rolling]They can be described as full-body flailing and sudden-onset vocaltics.

Experts from Canada, France, Germany and Denmark have also reported similar cases.

German psychiatrists made headlines last month when they claimed that teens are “catching” tics on social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. They were watching influencers suffering from Tourette syndrome, a condition characterised by severe tics, and in some cases even offensive or obscenities.

Young viewers may then feel compelled by the visuals to imitate their vocal or physical reactions.

Writing in the journal Brain, Kirsten Müller-Vahl, a professor of psychiatry at Hannover Medical School, claimed that the phenomenon should be labelled a ‘mass social media-induced illness’.

Professor Müller-Vahl says that Germany is seeing a similar outbreak of tics as those reported by Dr Hedderly and other British specialists.

Jan Zimmermann is a male 23-year old social media influencer who Jan Zimmermann claims has Tourette’s mild. He makes YouTube videos showing his symptoms.

He is the ‘second most successful YouTube creator in Germany and enjoys enormous popularity among young people’, according to Professor Müller-Vahl.

According to her, Jan’s afflicted teens have developed “similar or identical” functional Tourette-like behaviours. His 296 videos have been viewed more than 300 million times since he started posting them in 2019, says Professor Müller-Vahl, who reveals that over the past two years, a ‘remarkably high number’ of young patients have been referred to her Tourette’s outpatient clinic.

She says they all display ‘nearly identical movements and vocalisations that not only resemble Jan Zimmermann’s symptoms but are often the exact same — such as shouting ‘Bombe’, ‘Heil Hitler’, and ‘Fliegende Haie’ [flying sharks]You can also throw pens at school or make dishes at your home, but it is not enough.

While the new German patients are split evenly between males and females, Professor Müller-Vahl says this appears to be due to the original social media influencer being male.

She says colleagues at the University of Calgary in Canada tell her that their newly emerged ticcing patients are 90 per cent female — and she attributes this to the popularity there of a female British influencer called Evie Meg, 21, on TikTok, a video-sharing platform.

Evie is a Durham resident who posts videos of her Tourette symptoms. She has over 14 million fans. Evie is known for hitting herself multiple times, swearing, making strange sounds and making troubled voices.

British experts say that explaining the outbreak of ticcing as being caused by viral videos on the internet is simplistic.

Dr Hedderly says: ‘The German paper firmly places all of this on social media influence — but that is not necessarily how we are looking at the problem.’

Although she acknowledges the fact that some of her colleagues are seeing people with tics “very similar to those seen on social media”, she asks the question, “Why don’t all these people get into florid attacks tic-like?”

Dr Hedderly says there could be many reasons why these tics are occurring. She says, ‘There must be a concentration on the individual. “What causes them to be tic?” Her suggestion is that there may be underlying causes that cause patients to tic.

While British experts report a significant number of girls suffering from this new disorder of ticcing, in which they repeatedly utter the word “beans”, it is actually one of Evie’s vocal tics. Dr Hedderly emphasizes that her and her coworkers have seen ‘tic-like episodes,’ but not conventional Tourette’s tics.

She adds, “What makes this different is the sheer number of young people who are presenting now.”

Dr Hedderly believes that the unprecedented lockdown pressures may contribute to this condition. Dr Hedderly suggests that stress may unmask a patient’s predisposition for tics, but in other patients it could be compounding an already existing vulnerability to anxiety until it becomes overwhelming.

NHS Lothian consultant neurologist Professor Jon Stone is currently treating patients suffering from this new condition.

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“Place your toothbrush on your back teeth, and then close your mouth. This relaxes the masseter muscles. [responsible for jaw movement]This makes it much easier to clean your teeth.

He said, “My impression is that the epidemic is significant.” “What we now have is a generation that’s having an extremely abnormal experience at home. It is possible that tics may be present in the ether.

“I had two female patients who were 17 and 18 years old, both of whom had had tics in the past pandemic. Since lockdown they have suffered from panic attacks, physical and verbal jerking, as well as stronger tics,” he said. One of them had looked at social media twice but claimed it didn’t have anything to do with her tics. One had seen social media, but realized it was making her tics worse. So she stopped.

Professor Stone says, “People won’t see people with tics on social media unless they are looking for them. And they’re searching because they have tics.” It is known that people who have Tourette’s and tics observe others with tics more often.

“It’s contagious. It’s like yawning.”

He says that no matter the source, physicians must recognise an outbreak of this disease as a medical problem in order to ensure appropriate treatment. Although social media may be an important factor for some patients, saying they just copied isn’t helpful. Unprecedentedly many teenagers have tics.

However, he advised anyone young who notices symptoms that they should not be able to stare at the ticcing of others all day. This might be something you want to reduce.

Patients are treated by Dr Hedderly using psychological techniques to distract from the tics. They also learn to let go of obsessive worrying about the next bout.

However, she claims that the resources are not sufficient to address this sudden eruption.

“Clinicians try to build resources quickly, such as self help techniques they can learn.”

In the meantime, she suggests that parents look into social media use by teens and children who exhibit sudden tics.