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Baffling Kalachi Sleeping Sickness

By James Donahue

The residents of Kalachi, a small town in Kazakhstan, are contending with a strange sleeping sickness that also steals their memories.

First occurring in 2010, the disease has been intensifying, causing people to drop by the hundreds in the past year. When stricken, victims might sleep for periods of two to six days straight. When they awaken, they experience significant loss of memory, medical people report.

Other symptoms of this perplexing disease include extreme fatigue and dizzy spells so severe that the patients cannot remain standing.

Sometimes large groups of people are stricken within minutes or hours of each other. One news report noted that eight children fell asleep within an hour on the first day of school. In another case, about 60 people were stricken with the disease in a single day.

A report by Joanna Rothkopf in Salon noted that doctors and scientists from all over have visited the community, located in the former Soviet Union, in an attempt to discover the cause of the illness. They have conducted bacterial and viral tests and ruled out parasitic diseases, even going to far as testing for trypanosomiasis, a sleeping sickness caused by the bite of a fly that is native to certain areas of Africa.

That Kalachi is located near an old uranium mine also has been tested. The National Nuclear Center’s Radiation Safety and Ecology Institute of Kazakhstan has ruled out radon as the cause of the problem. Researchers have even tested for carbon monoxide poisoning.

To date, nothing has been found that accounts for the bizarre sleeping disorder. The symptoms just don’t seem to fit any known disease or allergic reaction.

The sleeping sickness has many villagers frightened; so much so that several families are moving to other areas. One woman said she is afraid to let her children play outside.