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Mystery Diseases Strike Worldwide

The death of popular young actor Ricardo Yan, age 27, in the Philippines has put the spotlight on a mystery ailment that kills healthy Asian men in their sleep. Filipinos call it "bangungot" or the nightmare syndrome. Patients with the illness are heard moaning just before they die, which is usually in the middle of the night, doctors say.

Doctors say he died of haemorrhagic pancreatitis leading to cardiac arrest. But there is reason why the ailment should strike an apparently healthy young man.

Yan was on vacation at a beach resort with a group of friends. Autopsy results showed he had drunk only a moderate amount of alcohol, equivalent to about two bottles of beer, prior to his death. There was no evidence he had taken any drugs.

Filipino doctors--who call bangungot the Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death syndrome--said it generally strikes men between 30 to 40 years of age, although the youngest known victim was only 17. Women are usually not affected. "We have not autopsied any woman who died of bangungot," says Dr. Edgardo Gueco, chief of the national police medico-legal division. "Based on our observations, the victims had eaten heavily or drunk heavily before going to sleep.?

What happens during sleep is a mystery because bangungot victims never wake up, according to cardiologist Erdie Fadreguilan of the Philippine General Hospital. "The findings were that something went wrong with the rhythm of the heart while they were sleeping," Fadreguilan says, citing results of autopsies of 328 bangungot cases in the Philippines from 1957 to 1987.

In their last moments, individuals were usually heard moaning or groaning in their sleep, as if suffering from "some form of agony," he says. "We had no way of knowing what happened because they did not survive." For some reason, victims usually die around 3 o'clock in the morning.

Studies show that bangungot cases occur mainly in Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos, but a similar illness has been reported among Japanese men. In the United States, only Vietnamese refugees suffer from the condition, Fadreguilan says. Researchers don?t think the disease has a cultural or hereditary explanation. A possible cause could be the high carbohydrate diet of Asians, who eat large amounts of rice. But no one has been able to figure out why rice should have this effect on a few men, while millions are unaffected.

"Even if you move to different places, like the refugees going to the United States, the men can still suffer from it," Fadreguilan says. "Whether they move outside of their home country does not decrease the risk of them suffering from it."

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Greece has shut down its schools, from kindergartens to universities, for three days in order to stop the spread of a mystery virus that has killed three people and infected another 29 in less than a week. "Despite the fact that fewer children than adults have been affected by the virus?the measure is being taken to restrict any possible spread," according to an announcement by the Greek Ministry of Health.

Two women on the island of Crete and another in the northern Greek town of Ioannina are thought to have died from the virus, which causes high fever, muscle pain, headaches and fatigue and could affect the heart. The ministry has advised people to avoid enclosed spaces and practice good personal hygiene and says it?s putting hospitals around the country on alert to deal with an expected increase in people seeking medical assistance.

Greek TV news has been showing scenes of crowded waiting rooms at hospitals around the country. Dimitris Pepelasis, director of Athens' main children's hospital, says, "We saw an increase in patients when the decision to close the schools was taken. We still haven't seen any cases [here], however, and most people are coming in for purely precautionary reasons."

If we look into a crystal ball, we may learn what?s behind these mystery diseases. To learn how, read ?Exploring Scrying? by Ambrose Hawk, click here.

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