03/04/2015, 00.00
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Kazakhstan, 120 cases of strange “sleeping epidemic "

The first case of the phenomenon dates back to March 2013. Since then, 120 people have been affected by a strange disease that makes them sleep for days. The village concerned is located near the former Soviet era uranium mines. According to a professor at Tomsk University, the cause of the epidemic is a carcinogenic gas that is released from the decomposition of uranium.

Astana (AsiaNews) - "It started the ninth wave of the disease. Earlier this week there were two new unexplained cases, a man and a woman. A total of 120 people have fallen ill since the disorder made its first appearance, in March of 2013", says Amanbek Kalzhanov, administrative head of Esil district (Northern Kazakhstan province), referring to the new cases of a strange sleeping epidemic, called "Sleepy Hollow", which has hit the village of Kalachi in northern Kazakhstan.

The village is the scene of an unexplained disturbance that was first reported in 2013 and that cyclically affects the population, including children, causing a sudden and constant sleep, even for several days. " If you try to wake him, it seems he wants to open his eyes - but can't. He's sleeping and sleeping..." says Igor Samusenko, father of a child who is suffering from the illness. "I feel weak, my legs are heavy, as if they were wearing hundreds of boots, and my head is spinning," says another woman.

Despite numerous investigations to trace the cause of this strange phenomenon, the enigma of Sleepy Hollow is still without an official explanation. However, according Kalzhanov, the situation is under control: the local hospital runs smoothly, as well as the school is attended by about 40 students.

Some residents, however, have begun to express concern. Of a total of 600 inhabitants, in fact, 95 people have already left the village and of "about 218 families, 124 have expressed a desire to move elsewhere," said local official Sergey Kulagin. The disease has struck one in ten people and all the villagers have at least one relative affected by the "epidemic".

Groups of scientists and physicians - including some expert virologists and toxicologists - have visited the village, without arriving at any conclusion. The most likely hypothesis is that outlined by Prof. Leonid Rikhvanov, from the Department of Ecology and Environmental Chemistry of the city of Tomsk (Russia), according to who the origin of the disease must be sought in the radioactive waste from uranium mining.

Near the village of Kalachi there are some Soviet-era abandoned uranium mines. According to the professor, radon gas, which has no odor or color, is filtering through from the sub soil.  The gas is  highly toxic and  is released from the decomposition of the radioactive metal. A prolonged inhalation of this gas causes fatal diseases, chief among them cancer. Radon "due to its toxic effects, makes people feel as if immersed in a dream and then it makes them fall asleep".

The villagers support this theory and speak of other symptoms such as hallucinations, memory loss, dizziness and nausea. The gas is very difficult to detect because it requires the use of specific equipment, something that - believes Professor. Rikhvanov - has misled those who have investigated the phenomenon in the past.

Some doctors try to minimize the situation and trace the disease to a kind of mass psychosis that is now widespread among the village population. Some samples of water, soil and vegetation analyzed by the experts did not reveal any abnormality. Several medical disorders were, however, diagnosed by those suffering from the sleep epidemic: cases of encephalitis among children and strokes in adults. A part from these severe cases, usually after a few days of intensive care, patients return to a normal life - until a new wave of sudden sleeping envelopes them.


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