Hundreds of residents of Kalachi, a small town near a former Soviet Union uranium mine in Kazakhstan, have been suffering from a mysterious sleeping sickness that causes them to fall asleep for two to six days and wake up with significant memory loss.
While the eerie sickness was first reported in 2010, cases have been emerging in droves since March 2013. Other symptoms include feeling dizzy, being unable to stand up and extreme fatigue. The Siberian Times reports that eight children fell asleep within an hour during the first week of school, and several months later, 60 people were hit with the disease on the same day. While many are unable to recall their time asleep, some report terrifying nightmares.
Scientists and doctors have flown into Kalachi to determine the root of the illness, but after conducting over 20,00 tests ranging from environmental toxicity to patient data, results have been unsubstantial. Bacterial and viral tests have come up negative, knocking out the possibility that this is a parasitic disease such as African trypanosomiasis, which has similar effects.
In an interview with the Siberian Times, Sergei Lukashenko, director of Kazakhstan’s National Nuclear Centre’s Radiation Safety and Ecology Institute, said he is “positive this is not radon,” a colorless and odorless radioactive gas, but carbon monoxide could be to blame.
“We have some suspicions as the village has a peculiar location and weather patters frequently force chimney smoke to go down instead of up,” he continued. Carbon monoxide poisoning often results in a headache, vomiting and dizziness, but that wouldn’t account for the bizarre sleeping element.
And although elevated carbon monoxide levels were detected in some of the homes of those affected, officials later ruled that out as a cause.
With cases piling up and no end in sight, local officials last week started evacuating the village. Saule Agymbayeva, the deputy head of the Esil District of Kazakhstan, said more than half of the town’s 582 residents planned to relocate in an attempt to escape the mystery sickness, which has affected several citizens multiple times.
Olga Samusenko, 21, a resident of the village, told the Siberian Times she is looking to relocate her husband and two young children.
“We were at the parade of schoolchildren on September 1,” she continued. “My children are small, so we just went to look at the celebration. After that [two-year-old] Stanislav played outside in the yard, then he came home at about 4 p.m. and just fell down on his face. He couldn’t sit, he couldn’t stand. I tried to put him on his feet, but he was falling. His eyes were looking in different directions, as if he was drunk. It was so scary.”
“We need to escape now, there is no future for us here,” she said to the Siberian Times. ”Everyone is leaving. Many people have sent their children to relatives in other cities and villages. It is so scary. No one can explain us anything. We still do not know what’s going on. My children have not been outside since September. I am afraid to let them out.”