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What caused the epidemic, after which millions of people could not wake up
What caused the epidemic, after which millions of people could not wake up

At the beginning of the last century, epidemics began to spread throughout the planet. The first Spanish plague killed millions of people throughout the European continent, and in the early 1920s. a strange sleeping sickness arose. Many people suffering from this mysterious disease wanted to sleep so badly that they could not wake up or became disabled as a result.

The origins of sleeping sickness in the world

Lethargic encyphalitis was called "a disease that stole souls"

Sleeping sickness first caused a stir in the 17th century, when several Londoners suddenly fell asleep and did not wake up for several weeks. They were awakened in various ways, including sound and light, but to no avail.

In the winter of 1916, official episodes of the disease were recorded in Austria-Hungary and France. Within a year, the number of patients increased to an alarming degree. This unexplored disease began as a disease with typical symptoms of ODS. But after a few hours, and sometimes days, an irresistible drowsiness set in. People woke up, but after a few minutes fell asleep again practically on the go.

The duration of the acute phase is about three months. During this time, a third of the patients died. Of those who recovered, many were unable to return to normal life and became "ghost people." This is how the newspapers of the time dubbed these patients. Formally, the "ghosts" were in the world of the living, but in reality they were not engaged in any meaningful activity.

Sleeping sickness: manifestations and symptoms

This is how lethargic encephalitis manifested itself

After observing several such cases in Vienna in the spring of 1917, the Austrian neurologist Konstantin von Economo called the disease "lethargic encephalitis" and described its symptoms in detail. A wide variety of people have suffered, regardless of wealth, lifestyle or age. Soldiers in the trenches, newborn children and the elderly were injured. But worst of all, the doctors simply did not know what to do and how to cope with the disease. Meanwhile, the disease was clearly epidemic in nature, spreading from person to person.

A hundred years have passed since the appearance of this mysterious disease, but the specific pathogen has not been identified. For a long time, the version that encephalitis is associated with Spanish chickenpox was in vogue. The two diseases arose around the same time, and experts believe the influenza virus was the trigger. In particular, the influenza virus was considered a triggering mechanism, since a significant part of the sick had a history of Spanish flu. According to their theory, the flu virus could make some people especially vulnerable to the encephalitis pathogen.

However, no flu epidemic recorded in the past 150 years has been accompanied by a similar outbreak of encephalitis, with one exception: in 1890, a similar sleeping sickness arose in Italy after a seasonal flu epidemic. At that time, it was not recognized as an independent disease and was considered a complication of the flu.

In the late 1990s, a new version of the pathogen appeared. According to this hypothesis, the disease was caused by a diphtheria bacterium, which could provoke a specific reaction in some people. This theory became widespread when doctors in the UK discovered the bacterium in several people suffering from lethargic encephalitis.

In 2012, scientists re-examined tissue samples from people who died during a sleepy epidemic.This research led to the hypothesis that is considered the most promising today. Thus, modern experts believe that sleeping sickness is caused by enteroviruses. Polioviruses (causing poliomyelitis) and Coxsackie viruses (of which there are several dozen) were also considered as possible pathogens.

The emergence of a "sleep pandemic" in the Soviet Union

The lethargic sleep epidemic in the USSR

The disease came to the USSR from Romania. So, in the Nizhny Novgorod region, the first case of encephalitis was registered in March 1921. In Moscow, the disease began to spread in September 1922, and by the beginning of 1923 it was already known to doctors, numbering about 100 cases. According to the data of the Old Catherine Hospital, every fourth patient diagnosed with this disease has died.

According to Professor Mikhail Margulis, who worked at the hospital, encephalitis has many different symptoms, but the most common form is lethargic. Patients fell asleep for weeks or months, some of them developing a fever.

In the USSR, a special commission was created to study lethargic encephalitis. As a result of clinical observations, special literature on this disease has also been published. Some doctors have pointed to the high prevalence of sleeping sickness among Jews and its association with trauma and other illnesses. However, no expert has been able to offer an effective treatment.

In 1925, the epidemic subsided. And two years later, not a single case was reported. There is also evidence that Adolf Hitler himself contracted lethargic encephalitis.

How the Soviets beat the sleeping sickness epidemic

How there was no such treatment for sleeping sickness

Soviet doctors insisted on free medical care, strengthening the immune system of the population, improving diet, moderate exercise, and an annual check-up. So, not only sleeping sickness was eliminated, but also many other epidemiological problems caused by the Civil War.

These precautions reduced the likelihood of viral infections, and by 1925 the sleeping sickness epidemic in the USSR and around the world was over. The last major outbreak of the disease was recorded on the territory of Kazakhstan - in 2014, the disease was detected in 33 residents of the Akmola region. Since 2016, no new cases of sleeping sickness have been reported in the world.

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