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Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Print version ISSN 0042-9686


KHARABSHEH, Saad et al. Mass psychogenic illness following tetanus-diphtheria toxoid vaccination in Jordan. Bull World Health Organ [online]. 2001, vol.79, n.8, pp.764-770. ISSN 0042-9686.

In September 1998, more than 800 young people in Jordan believed they had suffered from the side- effects of tetanus-diphtheria toxoid vaccine administered at school; 122 of them were admitted to hospital. For the vast majority, their symptoms did not result from the vaccine but arose from mass psychogenic illness. The role played by the media, the children's parents, and the medical profession in the escalation of this mass reaction appeared, at first sight, to be unusual and even unique to the circumstances in Jordan at the time. A review of the literature showed, however, that this mass reaction was similar in many ways to previous outbreaks, even though the underlying causes varied. There are about 200 published accounts of mass responses to situations involving suspected poisoning or other events. Because such mass reactions are relatively rare and the triggers so diverse, individuals faced with responding to them are unlikely to have prior experience in how to handle them and are unlikely to take bold steps to prevent their escalation. Indeed they may be unaware that such events have been recorded before. The lessons learned from this incident in Jordan may help other immunization programme managers to handle crisis situations elsewhere.

Keywords : Diphtheria-tetanus vaccine [adverse effects]; Psychophysiologic disorders [epidemiology]; Hysteria; Students; Jordan.

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