Dozens of English school students have fallen ill in a crowd, during a ceremony commemorating Remembrance Day. It’s still not clear why this happened, but one of the most likely explanations is a rare phenomenon, a “contagious” panic spread.

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Some 40 children at Outwood Academy in Ripon in North Yorkshire were treated by emergency services and reported feeling extremely unwell after 4 of them fainted for no apparent reason.

“When the first boy was sick, we thought it was a one-off but then there was a big slap on the floor and someone had fainted,” said one student, who asked not to be named, as reported by AFP. “After that it was a bit of a domino effect – another three or four collapsed and then people started leaving the hall to get fresh air … they ushered us out quickly and a couple of girls had panic attacks.”

There was no apparent chemical leak or anything like that, and the first child that fainted probably did so due to overheating. What happened after that is still a mystery, but the best theory is that this caused a domino-like panic effect that spread to the crowd. This kind of effect is not unheard of, although they are extremely rare.

“We are of the view the children just fainted and there was a ripple effect throughout the school,” Dave Winspear of the North Yorkshire fire service told AFP. “More children felt anxiety and started to feel concerned and the thing has escalated.”

Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, but a thorough investigation and response is still eagerly awaited. When such a large number of people fall ill in such a short amount of time and in a limited space, there is either an external cause that caused them to fill ill, or an unexplained psychological effect – both of which should be properly understood.

“In cases like this where we have such a high number of people fall ill in such a small environment, it is our responsibility to take this extremely seriously and ensure a multi-agency response to fully investigate the circumstances,” said superintendent Nick Hunter at North Yorkshire Police. “Thankfully in this case, it was nothing serious and the incident has been brought to a safe conclusion.”

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