From getting sick from a meteorite to turning into a statue, here are 9 bizarre diseases that Science can’t explain.:
9. Von Economo Disease
Also called Encephalitis Lethargica or the sleepy sickness, Von Economo disease attacks the brain, leaving many victims in a statue-like condition, speechless and motionless. The disease came to the notice of physicians in 1916 when an unknown soldier was evacuated from the terrifying Battle of Verdun. He slept constantly, which baffled doctors. Sixty soldiers eventually joined him. Doctors blamed it on exposure to mustard gas, which was a chemical agent commonly used in World War One. However, in Vienna, a neurologist named Constantin von Economo began seeing similar cases in civilians. Clinics filled with patients, their loved ones explaining how they sometimes fall asleep walking or while chewing food. The victims displayed tics and repeated words, while their eyes refused to focus or register their surroundings. Almost half of them died when their respiratory systems were paralyzed. Von Economo studied their brains and found that most of them had a swollen hypothalamus, which controls sleep. It began to appear more and more. As it did so, the symptoms became more varied. Some people hiccupped or jumped uncontrollably. Others became hyperactive rather than tired. It would freeze one person while it made another sniff and drool. It affected children the worst. One child patient, named Rosie, plucked out her own eyes and denied she ever did it. Some people recovered after a few months. Some never did. Many appeared to recover only for them to begin displaying Parkinson’s like symptoms, followed by full paralysis. They were aware, sometimes even responding temporarily to outside stimuli or drugs, but could not move on their own. The 1990 Robin Williams movie Awakenings is based on a group of such patients living in New York City in the 1960s. For a long time, people thought the disease had disappeared. However, in the last few years, it’s been making a return in rare cases. And even now, scientists are baffled as to what causes this disease or how to cure it. The fear is another massive outbreak….
8. Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity
Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity, or EHS, is a syndrome that science has been on the fence about for at least a decade. But what is EHS supposed to be, exactly? Essentially, it’s an allergy to Wi-Fi. Sufferers claim that when exposed to the electromagnetic fields generated by Wi-Fi, they experience some combination of physical symptoms like nosebleeds, nausea, headaches, palpitations, fatigue, and rashes. Some even blame memory loss, confusion, and panic attacks on Wi-Fi. Studies have offered mixed results. Some scientists say they are suffering from the Wi-Fi. Or this could be a form of mass hysteria. Others say that the symptoms are so common that it really could be anything and the specific combinations are pure coincidence. The problem is becoming so prevalent that some countries, like Australia, are even awarding disability grants and workers compensation to EHS sufferers. Many flee modern society to get away from Wi-Fi. EHS-friendly zones are cropping up all over the world. Many people move to the National Radio Quiet Zone in Green Bank, West Virginia. In the Quiet Zone, all kinds of radio signals are banned to prevent interference with the nearby National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
7. Brainerd Diarrhea
In December 1983, 122 residents of middle-Minnesota city Brainerd drank raw, unpasteurized milk from a local dairy. What ensued was an outbreak of unstoppable diarrhea of nightmarish proportions. Not only did it persist for months on end but it was completely resistant to antibiotics and antimicrobial treatment. The outbreak wasn’t contagious. There were no other systemic signs of illness, such as fever, nausea, and vomiting. Experts called it “idiopathic,” meaning it occurred spontaneously and without a traceable root, though many blamed the milk. The phenomenon has been the subject of six published scientific studies, all of which have failed to identify a cause. In most cases, patients were afflicted for over a year. The CDC defines Brainerd diarrhea as “a syndrome of acute onset of watery diarrhea lasting 4 weeks or longer.” A 1992 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine documented cases of patients who had “become alarmed at the prospect of endless diarrhea,” with explosive bowel movements occurring 5 to 25 times per day. One case in the study endured for 2 years and 7 months. Ten outbreaks of Brainerd diarrhea have been documented since the initial (and largest) occurrence in Brainerd. The most studied case stems from a 72-person wave that hit Illinois in 1987 that many tied to untreated water. The only known case outside of the U.S. was documented in 58 passengers on a Galapagos Island cruise ship in 1992. The two most recent episodes occurred in 1996 and 1998 and were tied to local restaurants. Through every instance, the illness has maintained the name of the humble Minnesota locale where it was first observed.
6. Exploding Head Syndrome
Imagine laying down at night or waking up in the morning and perceiving a loud noise or explosion, like a gunshot or cymbal crash. No one else hears it. Some people report fear and seeing flashes of light. This phenomenon is called Exploding Head Syndrome or EHS and it’s been around since at least the 19th century. Contrary to the name, EHS is not associated with pain. However, the noise attacks can cause so much fear that some sufferers commonly report tachycardia and palpitations. Despite the distressing nature of EHS, relatively little is known about the prevalence and underlying cause of the condition. Some scientists have estimated that EHS may affect 10% of the population. Females tend to be more at risk than males and the average age of this illness is around 50 years old and may affect one out of five college students. There are various theories as to what might cause EHS. Some scientists have speculated that EHS may be associated with minor temporal lobe seizures. Another theory is that it is caused by sudden shifts of middle ear components. Other possible causes include stress or anxiety, impairments in calcium signaling, and brainstem neuronal dysfunction. Because of the benign nature of EHS, many individuals do not require medical treatment because there is nothing really to prevent large banging noises in the brain. We don’t know for sure why it happens, and we also can’t cure it.
5. Water Allergy
Water allergy, or aquagenic urticaria, is the height of irony. The human brains and hearts are composed of around 70% water, while our lungs contain a whopping 80% – even our bones are about 30% water. To survive, we need close to 2.4 liters daily on average, some of which we get from food. But some people are allergic to it. The first recorded case of aquagenic urticaria was documented in 1963, when a 15-year-old girl broke out in sores after water-skiing. It was subsequently defined as a severe sensitivity to water, manifested by itchy hives breaking out on the exposed skin within minutes. People with the condition restrict their eating of certain fruits and vegetables with high water content, and often opt for drinking diet soft-drinks instead of tea, coffee, or juice. A reaction can also occur if a sufferer is exposed to sweat, tears, rain, and humid conditions. Reactions include hives, swelling and pain. The condition appears to be more common in women, and is likely to develop during puberty, with a genetic disposition being the most likely cause, but scientists aren’t sure. Its rarity means it’s often misdiagnosed as an allergy to chemicals in water, such as chlorine or salt. Inflammation can last for an hour or longer and can lead to patients developing a phobia of bathing in water. Severe cases can result in anaphylactic shock. Sounds extremely difficult to avoid.
4. Polio-like Syndrome
Acute flaccid myelitis or AFM is a condition that affects the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord, and causes symptoms that resemble polio, hence its other name: polio-like syndrome. Symptoms include a sudden weakness in one or more arms or legs, along with loss of muscle tone and decreased or absent reflexes. In rare cases, patients experience numbness while some have pain in their arms or legs. In other cases, dysfunction of the nerves controlling the head and neck, resulting in facial weakness, difficulty swallowing, or drooping of the eyes. No one is sure what causes the disease, exactly, and it mostly affects children. In 2016, it killed a six-year-old boy. Doctors have blamed viruses like West Nile but no one is sure of the cause. There is also no specific treatment or cure. Doctors treat patients individually and try to help them manage the symptoms.
3. Stiff Person Syndrome
Stiff Person Syndrome, or SPS, affects only one in one million individuals, worldwide. Doctors consider it a neurological disease. However, despite that, doctors often classify it as an autoimmune disease, which just adds to the whole “we do not know what this is” vibe. Patients suffer from alternating rigidity and spasticity of the muscles, tremors, anxiety, and a hyper-excitability of muscles. Emotional stress or even a gentle touch can cause prolonged, often severe, spasms. The average time to diagnose the disease is seven years, and misdiagnoses during this period include anxiety or adjustment disorder, phobia, multiple sclerosis, dystonia, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s Disease, and psychosomatic illness. A lack of awareness of the disease is responsible for this prolonged delay in diagnosis. There is no cure for SPS and doctors aren’t even sure what causes it. Possible explanations include everything from diabetes to mutated genes. It was first described in 1956 and sufferers contract the illness between their third and fifth decades.
2. Sweating Sickness
First recorded in 1485 in England, sweating sickness, or the English sweat, starts with a severe feeling of foreboding, followed by headaches and shivers. It then proceeds to profuse sweating and death. The contagious epidemic tore through Europe about six times before vanishing altogether in the 16th century. The real horror of the disease, though, was the fact that it could kill someone 24 hours after the first onset of symptoms. It also mostly affected the rich. After completely vanishing, sweating sickness became an historical oddity. Historians and doctors alike tried to guess at what the disease could have been and what could have caused it. Then, in the 1990s, an outbreak of a very similar syndrome occurred among the Navajo people in the region of Gallup, New Mexico. It came to be called the Four Corners outbreak and was traced back to a hantavirus present in the feces of deer mice. Some scientists say that what broke out in the 15th and 16th centuries was a hantavirus like the one behind the Four Corners outbreak. But what caused sweating sickness, what introduced it to the population, is still a matter of debate. Some say that rats raiding the larders of the rich spread it while others say it came with an invading army. Another party of the mystery is this: why did it vanish as quickly as it arrived?
1. Meteorite Mystery Illness
In September 2007, a meteorite struck the high plains of Peru. That in itself is not huge news. Scientists estimate that anywhere from 36 to 166 meteorites strike the Earth’s surface every year. Now what made this event newsworthy, however, was that soon after it struck, a mysterious illness occurred among local residents. Patients were treated for dermal injuries, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, and vomiting. The large crater itself emitted a noxious odor, so it wasn’t long before people began to blame the meteorite for the mystery illness. No one died from the incident and only a dozen needed any real treatment. Everyone else recovered on their own in a matter of days. Scientists disagreed over what exactly caused the illness. Some say it released something from the ground. Others say there was something in the dust on the ground. And still others say it may have been something released from the meteorite itself.
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