Swine flue, Madcow disease, and SARS seem to grab all the headlines but thousands of people worldwide are afflicted with rare conditions that few people have even heard of.

We’ll take a look at some of the most rare diseases from “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome which may have inspired Lewis Carroll to a disease that drove England’s King George III mad.

1.    Water Allergy (Aquagenic Urticaria):
It is estimated that 30 cases have been reported by the Medical Review Board. Sufferers of the disease appear to be allergic to water. The allergy usually occurs  later in life as a consequence of hormonal imbalances brought about by giving birth.

A case was reported in April, of a 21-year old mother who was unable to drink water or be caught in the rain because she would develop a burning rash. She was only able to drink Diet Coke and shower for a maximum of 10 seconds per week. It is viewed not strictly as an allergy but a hypersensitivity to ions found in non-distilled water.


2.    Progeria:
Progeria is a congential and fatal illness that has a striking resemblance to premature ageing, with sufferers dying at an average age of 13, leading many to call it the “Benjamin Button Disease”.

The illness is characterized by profound growth delays between nine and 24 months which lead to abnormal physical developments such as a disproportionately small face, bulging eyes, and an underdeveloped jaw.

Sufferers eventually lose layers of fat beneath the skins leading to loss of elasticity in artery walls, resulting in fatality via stroke and heart attack in 90 percent of those afflicted.

3.    Foreign Accent Syndrome
There have been a reported 60 cases ever recorded. Sufferers of foreign accent syndrome find themselves talking in an unrecognizable dialect.

Doctors treating the syndrome, initially dismissed it as a psychiatric problem, but in 2002, research scientists from Oxford University observed that the sufferers shared the same set of brain abnormalities leading to changes in pitch, lengthening of vowel annunciation, and other speech irregularities.

Sufferers do not necessarily adopt the language that they are exposed to, strictly a foreign accent, but the changes in speech bear a striking resemblance to foreign accents.

The first case was reported to be a Norwegian woman in 1931 who developed a strong German accent and was ostracized by her village.

4.    Laughing Death (Kuru):

Laughing Death was exlcusive to a New Guinea tribe called the Fore people. The disease is characterized by sudden bursts of maniacal laughter.

In the 1950′s, US and Australian physicians observed men and women with shaking limbs resembling Parkinsons. With rest the shaking would subside but a month to three months later, sufferers would lose the ability to stand, become cross-eyed and lose the power to speak coherently, before dying suddenly.

A research group called the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes reported that tests of those afflicted with Laughing Death, showed the emergence of holes in the brain, referred to as “swiss cheesing.”

In 1976, A US physician named Carleton Gajdusek was awarded the Nobel Prize, when he figured out that Laughing Death was the result of an infection being passed on through the village custom of eating family members after they died. After the cannibalism custom was eliminated, the epidemic ended.


5.    Alice In Wonderland Syndrome (Micropsia or Lilliput Sight) :

Sufferers of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome perceive objects to be far smaller than they really are. The syndrome can also affect one’s sense of touch, hearing, or perceptions of body image.

The syndrome is named after Lewis Caroll’s Alice In Wonderland where Alice experiences a series of bizarre events similar to what a Micropsia patient would go through. The syndrome is also associated with migraine headaches. It is also well known that Lewis Caroll suffered from chronic migraines, leading many to speculate that his suffering may have prompted many passages in his writing.


Last Modified June 17, 2009 @ 3:58 pm
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