Baku, Azerbaijan, Sept. 10
By Elena Kosolapova - Trend: The story developing in a small settlement in northern Kazakhstan is worthy of a plot for popular American science fiction television drama series, "The X-Files."
The residents of the Kazakh village of Kalachi are racking with a mysterious disease that could not be explained by a wide range of specialists in medicine and many other specialized fields.
The villagers complain of severe fatigue and constant desire to sleep. They can suddenly fall asleep in the most unexpected places - at work, at school, in the street - and sleep for several days. Nobody and nothing can wake them up. And after waking up some of them lose memory, have hallucinations, and behave like in a dream.
The first case of the manifestation of this sleeping disease occurred in Kalachi in March 2013. And the disease breaks out once every few months. Ten percent of the village population exceeding 600 people has been infected with this disease.
The strangest thing that despite the authorities' investigation with the involvement of local and invited specialists, the cause of the sickness remains a mystery. The scientists conducted thousands of experiments on soil, air and water in the village and the diseased patients, but the only thing they could say the people are quite healthy and the symptoms they experience do not fit into any of the known diseases.
Some kind of sleeping sickness, which also called "human African trypanosomiasis," is a widespread tropical disease. But besides permanent desire to sleep the symptoms of this disease are different. Moreover African disease is spread by a bite of an infected tsetse fly living dozens of thousands kilometers far from Kazakhstan. And bacteriological and viral tests on Kalachi's villagers have proved negative.
Local people are in despair. They think the authorities are hiding the truth about the disease and invent a number of fantastic explanations of its reasons from biology experiments conducted by western laboratories to aliens and God's punishment.
However there are some versions which are more real at first glance. Kalachi is located in the vicinity of former Soviet secret uranium mining town Krasnogorsk, which was closed after Soviet Union's collapse about 20 years ago. Some people associate abnormal sleep with the abandoned uranium mine. But scientists working at the scene say that the radiation level is normal across the village. Moreover the unfortunate Kalachi is the only village affected by this strange sickness and the dwellers of other settlements located nearby and even those who worked in the uranium mine for all their life are safe and sound.
Local nuclear specialists also assure that radiation sickness does not produce sleeping effects. Western experts share their opinion on this issue.
"In my work so far I have never heard of radiation causing any sleeping disease," Britt-Marie Drottz Sjoberg, psychology professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who has lead and participated in a number of researches and projects relation to public reactions to radiation, radioactive waste and environmental issues told Trend by e-mail.
"I doubt that uranium is the cause of the sleeping sickness... There is no such thing as "normal" for radiation levels... they should be published and compared to places without uranium mining operations," Janette Sherman, M.D. specializing in internal medicine and toxicology with an emphasis on chemicals and nuclear radiation who earlier worked for the Atomic Energy Commission at the University of California in Berkeley, and for the U.S. Navy Radiation Defense Laboratory in San Francisco and published a number of researches on nuclear radiation also told Trend by e-mail.
Now all the people suffering from the disease in Kalachi are diagnosed with encephalopathy of unknown origin, i.e. brain damage by unknown substance. The substance was not defined.
Kazakh Health Ministry informed that the disease had classic signs of narcolepsy and some psychologists and psychiatrists explain the disease by massive psychosis.
"There have been many such unexplained events. Some of them have been caused by agents such as virus that were discovered later, such as von economo encephalitis, others by vaccines, most have been unexplained medically and assumed to be mass hysteria," Maurice Preter, M.D., Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry on the faculty of Columbia University's College of Physicians & Surgeons and is Adj. Associate Professor of Neurology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center told Trend by e-mail.
A special commission was created from specialists from several Kazakh ministries to investigate the situation in Kalachi. But the only problem revealed by the commission in the village so far was the higher level of radon gas in air. This gas used in anesthesiology could be the cause of the abnormal sleep, according one of the numerous versions, the scientists say. However the commission does not announce when the investigation is expected to be completed.
Meanwhile extrasensory individuals, sorcerers and ufologists explain the disease by weird by extraterrestrial reasons.
The last wave of the mysterious disease happened on September 1. Nine children fell asleep immediately after festive ceremony on the occasion of new academic year and slept for two days. And this time the patients' symptoms have aggravated compared to the last year. The diseased people have nightmares, hallucinations and some signs of insanity. Thus, the problem requires prompt solution and should not be delayed. Maybe the truth is out there.
Edited by C.S.