[Betlehem Fekade | Innovation Editor]
The human body is a complex mechanism, capable of many wondrous feats, but nothing is more mysterious or confounding as these strange illnesses which sound like they’ve been plucked out of a fantasy series. Here are just five such conditions that might well have inspired legends or bear amazing resemblance to the fantasy world.
Porphyria – the vampire disease.
Porphyria is a group of inherited metabolic disorders which lead to the accumulation of chemicals known as porphyrins. In some patients, these chemicals can build up and cause extreme reactions to sunlight – this isn’t just your average sun burn; sufferers of Porphyria will begin to have a reaction to the sun following an exposure period of up to 30 minutes. While the connection between the folklore and this disease is tenuous at best, some experts believe the myths of vampirism originated from Vlad the Impaler who is thought to have had this condition.
Epidermodysplasia verruciformis – the tree illness.
This is caused by a hereditary susceptibility to a viral infection known as human papillomavirus (HPV). This causes an overgrowth of scaly pieces of skin and skin cancers especially on the hands and feet, resulting in bark-like growths which can spread all over the body.
Hypertrichosis and clinical lycanthropy – the werewolf diseases.
Hypertrichosis, also known informally as werewolf syndrome, is the excessive growth of body hair. This can be a genetically inherited condition or caused by some medication or cancers. The excessive growth of hair over the facial regions, arms, legs and torso have a distinct similarity to the folklore of lycanthropy. Another condition related to lycanthropy and werewolf folklore is known as clinical lycanthropy – a psychiatric disorder that involves the delusion that the person can or has transformed into an animal. Patients with this order also often adopt animalistic behaviours such as howling, clawing or growling.
Cotard’s delusion – the zombie syndrome.
Cotard’s delusion is an extremely rare mental illness which can cause the person to believe that they do not exist as a person, or believe that part of their body has become putrefied or no longer exists. There have been many case studies to identify the cause of this condition and so far experts believe simply that this condition arises from a distorted perception of reality.
Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva – the human mannequin.
FOP is a rare genetic disorder which affects the body’s ability to repair connective tissue such as muscle, ligament and tendons. A mutation in the repair mechanism means joints are ossified (covered in new bone tissue). The formation of bone over joints means that they are unable to move and become permanently frozen. Surgical intervention is difficult as any attempt to remove the bone results in the body attempting to repair the area with yet more bone.
While these diseases bare similarities to our folklore and fictitious pieces of work, it is important to note that these are real diseases and sufferers should be treated with respect and dignity.