Sleep sickness

An entire town became victim to a mysterious sickness that caused many to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, people could barely go about their daily duties without dropping off mid way. The scary thing is that when they woke up, they would remember nothing including the moment they fell asleep. This series of bizarre events took place in two neighbouring towns located in Kazakhstan. It’s a Eurasian region bordering Russia to the north and west and China to the east. The town of Kalachi was a remote village of only 300 people but it is where reports of the strange sickness started and possibly originated from.

Kalachi after residents had been evacuated

In 2010 an elderly woman was in a town located in the north west of Kazakhstan. Lyuba, as she was affectionately referred to by those who were closest to her, manned a market stall as did many other women in the marketplace. The women usually spoke about all sorts of things to pass the time during the day, local gossip, social issues and so on. On this particular day it was just the same, nothing was out of the ordinary until one of the women asked Lyuba a question. There was no response from Lyuba which caused all the women to naturally look to her direction, only to see the older woman slumped with her head resting on a table in front of her. They repeatedly called her name to no avail as she continued to lay there still, not reacting to any of the noise around her. Panicked by this, one of the women who was a retired nurse quickly checked Lyuba’s vitals including her pulse and pupils. They then heard Lyuba snoring. The ambulance was promptly called and Lyuba woke up 4 days later unaware of where she was or what had happened to her.

The hospital told Lyuba she had suffered a stroke, she was able to walk right after she woke up which was out of the ordinary for a stroke victim. This shocked the hospital staff as it was unusual for someone to be able to walk so soon after a stroke. So was it actually a stroke?

Lyuba was never the same after her 4 day black out. She began to constantly forget things, her mood and entire demeanour had also changed and she was perceived as more aggressive. This was probably due to the frustration Lyuba faced in not knowing what had happened to her. Her life as she knew it had completely changed with no explanation or any signs of getting better. The next few years included Lyuba having several tests done, even travelling to neighbouring Russia for some answer as to what had caused this degradation in her health. Medical professionals seemed perplexed as Lyuba was diagnosed with several different things ranging from epilepsy to heart conditions to brain diseases. It seemed there was no light at the end of the tunnel as Lyuba was left a shadow of her former self and the topic of idle gossip in her town.

One of many patients admitted to hospital after falling asleep for days

One of the nurses that treated Lyuba when she was first rushed into hospital actually experienced the same symptoms. Only weeks after she had treated Lyuba, full time nurse Nadezdha also fell into a deep sleep her mother couldn’t wake her from. Days later when she finally woke up in her hospital bed, doctors chalked it up to exhaustion due to Nadezdha’s line of work. Soon Nadezdha and those around her accepted the explanation as most had seen far worse happen around them in the poverty stricken, post soviet small town. Nadezdha didn’t seem to experience the same symptoms that Lyuba suffered afterwards so it was quickly brushed aside as a strange one off incident.

In 2013 villagers in Kalachi, a town in Kazakhstan began passing out at random. This happened at school, work and even in public. People would slip into some sort of coma that lasted for weeks in some cases. Those affected also suffered dizziness, headaches and nausea, symptoms quite similar to that of Lyuba’s in 2010..

At the time the village had an estimated population of about 582 and 680, during the peak of the mystery illness over 150 people reported falling asleep in circumstances that were out of the ordinary. Some people even experienced it more than once, soon there was a surge of cases through the winter of 2013 and the government began to pay attention to the small town.

In January, the governor of the northern Akmola region, Sergey Kulagin, announced that all the villagers would be relocated elsewhere by May of 2014. However not all locals left the village and many actually remained due to the town being the only home they’d ever known. Some accepting that they will die there.

Mysterious sleeping sickness spreads in Kazakhstani village

Kalachi is also home to a Uranium mine, a relic from its Soviet era left abandoned since the 90s. Russian scientist Leonid Rikhvanov from Geological and Mineralogical Sciences of Tomsk Polytechnic University was sure that the Uranium mine was the cause. The scientist had never visited the village himself or conducted any tests. Leonid stated,

‘To describe it simply, when the uranium mines were abandoned, they began to fill with ground water. Radon and other inert gases which release as a result of the decay of uranium are squeezed out by groundwater and through the cracks in the ground rises to the surface. It can accumulate in the cellars.’

Although Leonid was sure of his explanation and claimed his model to be the only one able to explain the situation, other scientists who had been to the village quickly ruled out the Uranium mine as well as any man made toxins or pathogens as the cause. The symptoms people suffered also did not match up with classic radiation poisoning which is far more severe and can cause cancer.

People wanted answers and theories such as mass psychosis, supernatural forces and a government conspiracy were amongst some of the explanations. With such a strange string of incidents the theories didn’t seem that far fetched to most people as more time passed with no solid answer. The central government as well as the local governing body went quiet. It took two years for scientists and the government to announce a cause. Carbon monoxide.

Scientists present their findings on the sickness

Although carbon monoxide poisoning was ruled as one of the causes this still leaves some unanswered questions, such as how carbon monoxide can freely flow throughout the town and effect so many people in open air? To this day, scientists are unable to confirm whether the gas is the main cause or only a factor, which then begs the question as to why they would make this announcement after two years. It is all quite baffling and the entire story really does leave you more confused then before, there have been no official follow ups since but many believe there is more to the story.

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