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5 strange epidemics you probably never heard of

An epidemic happens when there is a rapid spread of disease to a large of number of people under a short period of time.

When the disease is spread to other countries or continents and affects a large number of people, then it is called a pandemic, just like what the world is going through in 2020.

However, these epidemics are restricted to influenza. There are many strange and unheard of epidemics that baffle scientists to this day.

Here are five strange epidemics you probably never heard of:

1.The Dancing Epidemics of 1518

Engraving of Hendrik Hondius portrays three women affected by the plague. Work based on original drawing by Pieter Brueghel, who supposedly witnessed a subsequent outbreak in 1564 in Flanders. Credit: Public Domain.

Also known as the dancing plague , this epidemic took place in Strasbourg, Alsace (present-day France) in July 1518.

The account vary but reportedly between 50 and 400 people danced for days.

The outbreak started when a woman referred to as Frau Troffea started to dance with no signs of stopping in a street in Strasbourg.

By end of the week, 34 others joined her. Then within a month, the dancing crowd grew to 400.

Looking back at official records such as cathedral sermons, local and regional chronicles, city council reports as well as physician notes, mass dancing was clearly mentioned. However, there were no reasons given.

While some sources reported that the unique plague cost the lives of up to 15 people a day, there were no official records stating the number of fatalities.

Death is, nonetheless, possible. Imagine dancing for days without stopping, one could easily collapse due to dehydration and exhaustion. Moreover, there is no evidence that the dancers got jiggy with it out of their own free will. In fact, they reportedly looked afraid and desperate.

But what could lead these people to groove it unwillingly till they kicked the bucket?

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Like many unexplained things in the world (such as the King Tut Curse), blame it on mold.

Some experts believed that ergot, a mold that grows on the stalks of damp rye could be the culprit. But there is one problem. When consumed, the mold (which can be found in bread), will cause violent convulsion and delusion, not dancing that lasts for days.

Meanwhile, another theory suggested it was due to stress-induced psychosis. It happened when people were starving and suffering from disease. The psychosis might have created a chorea, causing the body to move in random and intricate movements that looked like dancing.

The dancing plague is one of the strange epidemics ever occurred.

2.Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic

While it is called a laughter epidemic, this disease is no laughing matter.

It started on Jan 30, 1962 at a mission-run boarding girl school in Kashasha, Tanganyika (now Tanzania after being united with Zanzibar).

Three girls started to laugh and eventually the laughter spread throughout the school.

Eventually, the uncontrollable laughter affected roughly 1000 people lasting several months, causing the temporary closure of schools.

The laughing fits could last from a few hours up to 16 days.

Those affected also showed other symptoms such as crying, fainting, problem with breathing, and in some cases, rashes.

According to researcher Christian Hempelmann, the laughter epidemic could be described as a case of mass psychogenic illness (MPI).

It happens when there is a variety of high-stress settings. Hempelmann wrote, “The local situation in the school setting can also increase as it is a point of friction and transition where the students from the traditional tribal society are confronted with Western methods of instruction, educational expectations, and religious-moral values. In addition, the transition of students through adolescence takes place while they are separated from their families.”

Basically, the laughing fits were symptoms to anxiety and stress. Just like you would feel dizziness and headaches due to stress, these young girls were laughing instead.

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Furthermore, Hempelmann pointed out that MPI a last a resort for people of a low status. For them, it is an easy way for them to express that something is wrong.

3.Kalachi Sleep Hollow

Sleep hollow is considered a possible medical disease causing patients to sleep for days or weeks at a time.

So far, this disease has only been reported in a remote village of Kalachi in Kazakhstan.

It was first reported in March 2013 and it has affected at least 152 people.

Villagers would fall asleep suddenly even while walking. They then woke up with memory loss, grogginess, weakness and headaches. Some of them even slept for up to six days at a time.

The sickness would affect both the young and the old. In some cases, the patients suffered from hallucinations.

At first, experts diagnosed the epidemic as “encephalopathy of unknown origin” or a generic term for brain illnesses.

They also suspected the nearby uranium mines that were closed after the fall of the Soviet Union as the root cause of the strange epidemic.

However, authorities did not detect significant amount of radiation or heavy metals to cause the phenomenon.

Eventually in 2015, the government announced they finally solved the mystery behind the strange epidemic.

The uranium mines were indeed the cause but not the way the experts imagined at first.

After the mines were closed, there was a high concentration of carbon monoxide in the area. This caused the oxygen in the air to be reduced accordingly, causing people to fall asleep.

A sleepy hollow, one of the strange epidemics that took place recently.

4.The meowing nuns epidemic hysteria

This event which took place in the early 14th century in northern France, is considered a mass hysteria or epidemic hysteria.

A nun at a secluded Catholic convent began meowing like a cat. Within one week, all the nuns at the convent started to meow and purr.

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The bizarre meowing session even lasted for hours. Since the Catholic Church at the time considered cats to be the devil’s animals, the soldiers were employed to whip the nuns and the meowing ceased.

This was not the only bizarre mass hysteria that took place among nuns during the Middle Ages.

In the 1400s, a nun in a German convent began to bite her fellow nuns. This strange behaviour soon spread through other convents in Germany, Holland and Italy.

They eventually stoped biting when they were exhausted.

One theory is that many of these nuns were forced into convents by their parents. They were forced to a lifestyle of celibacy, poverty and manual labour. Plus, combined with the fact it was during the Middle Ages when people believed in supernatural things, these might be the cause of nuns meowing and biting.

Can you imagine a group of nuns meowing non-stop? It is definitely one of the stranger epidemics to have ever happened. Credits: Pixabay.

5.West Bank Fainting Epidemic

Occurring in late March and early April 1983, the 1983 West Bank fainting epidemic affected large numbers of Palestinians, resulting in 943 people being hospitalised.

The symptoms were headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, abdominal pain, weakness and fainting.

About 70% of them were teenage schoolgirls.

At first, authorities suspected mass chemical poisoning. However, there was no solid proof to this claim.

After schools were closed in the area, there were no additional illnesses reported. The most possible reason is psychological factors that the students were suffering from stress and anxiety.

Due to the conflict at West Bank between the Israelis and Palestinians, many of the reports surrounding the fainting epidemic were biased and some were even exaggerated.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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