This mysterious city of Kalachi in Northern Kazakhstan have people suffering from an unexplained sleeping sickness, where they suddenly feel dizzy and collapse into a deep slumber, even while walking. Sufferers fall asleep for up to six days in a row and complain of weakness, headaches and memory loss upon waking up.
The first case was seen in 2010 when a middle-aged woman was suddenly overcome with intense drowsiness while working at a market. She woke up four days later in a hospital where she was told that she had had a stroke. Soon after, several such cases started to occur with other villagers as well. This sickness attacked the old and the young alike. Even a pet cat had fallen a victim to this as it suddenly “went stupid” and began meowing and attacking walls, furniture and the family dog. The cat fell asleep for a day and snored like a human. It even stopped reacting to anything, not even cat food.
Doctors first thought of it to be an epidemic caused by a bacteria or a virus. But, upon running several tests on the patients, nothing explained the strange “sleeping sickness”. Almost three-fourth of the village’s population had left the town due to the dreaded illness.
In 2015, researchers found that the sleeping sickness was the result of excessive levels of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons in the air caused by nearby uranium mines that had been closed somewhere in the nineties. The gas carbon monoxide binds to the blood more effectively than oxygen, which means that when levels get too high, it can starve the brain of oxygen. This can trigger the brain to shut down, explaining the uncontrollable feeling of fatigue.
However, the carbon monoxide theory has not convinced everyone because the mines hadn’t been active since the early nineties and carbon monoxide is usually the product of combustion. So, why was the sleeping sickness affecting residents two decades later There are several questions left unanswered.