The villagers of Kazakh village of Kalachi are suffering from a strange ailment. At any time of the day they just fall asleep and remain unconscious for many days. Kalachi is a village located in Esil District of Akmola Region in Kazakhstan. Almost one fourth of the villagers have suffered atleast once from the sleeping sickness. The first case of this mysterious illness was reported in March 2013. The symptoms include tiredness, drowsiness, loss of coordination, headaches and partial loss of memory. The sickness attacks anyone. Age, sex, species and health conditions do not matter. The sickness strikes anytime. A person may falls asleep while walking on the streets, while eating or while he is talking and he may sleep for days. When the person wakes up he feels dizzy and confused. Even animals are affected. Sometimes the animals also show sudden outburst of hyperactivity after they wake up.
Some people don’t sleep completely but look intoxicated. They appear confused and are unable to stand. Some of those affected suffer from vivid hallucinations. Locals say that the sleeping sickness is getting worse. There is a case when eight kids fell asleep in the school within an hour. There had been a time when 60 patients suffering from the disorder were found the same day.
Many scientists, doctors, virologists, radiologists and toxicologist have visited Kalachi to find the cause. Viral and bacterial infections like meningitis have been ruled out. Even the soil and the water show no presence of chemicals that would cause the sickness. Some doctors reported that the patients are suffering from encephalopathy, a disorder or disease of the brain. Scans of the brains have shown the presence of excessive fluid a condition known as oedema. The origin of the brain disease is still unclear.
The residents of Kalachi blame the wind coming from the abandoned Soviet-era uranium mine for causing the sickness. This Krasnogorskiy mine that is located besides the village was once used to extract uranium. The mine was closed in 1990s. Tests showed that the radiation levels in the village and at place closest to the mine were same as the background levels. Miners who had worked at the mine were also not affected by the sickness.
High levels of radon had been found in the village that was four to five times the normal. But doctors claim that the elevated levels would not be a cause and the symptoms of the sickness did not match. Radiation as a cause was ruled out. Carbon monoxide poisoning is also considered as the possible cause.
The high level of carbon monoxide in the village is caused by the smoke from the chimney that goes down instead of going up because of the location of the village and the weather there. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, vomiting and dizziness. Though a few symptoms are similar the reason of falling asleep for days is not known.
The mystery of the ‘sleeping sickness’ in the villagers of Kalachi is still not cracked and the residents are asked to resettle elsewhere.