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Creating Waves of Awareness


During my internship at our college hospital,we had conducted a free medical camp for school children. There were many students, hence we asked them to be in a queue, and we were examining them one by one. The first student we examined told that she has headache, abdominal pain and vertigo since morning. The same clinical features were presented by almost all students! When our professor reached there, he scolded us for allowing other students while dealing with one case. “If you take case this way, you will be getting same symptoms among all”, he said in a rough voice. Then we allowed only one person in the cabin and we got difference in the symptoms!

Once I was attending a wedding ceremony. When the ceremony was about to begin, the bride's elder sister collapsed, followed by the other three family members. Most of us thought that it is due to some food poisoning. Immediately somebody took them to a nearby hospital, and believe me, they all returned home within one hour with a smiling face!

You might have heard of similar incidences, specially among school children and women, mainly during public gatherings and functions. In the news paper also we come across a group of people giving the same complaints after taking same food or medicine. If there is no definite cause, mass hysteria may be the cause for this phenomenon. The mouth to mouth publicity and over-consciousness of health play a major role in doubling the severity of mass hysteria. Usually, doctors are the victims of mass hysteria and the media always takes the benefit.

Mass Hysteria is also know as Collective hysteria, Group hysteria, Mass psychogenic illness or Collective obsessional behavior. It is a considered as a socio-psychological phenomenon in which similar hysterical symptoms are manifested in a group of people. The victims strongly believe that they are suffering from a particular disease or affected with same kind of toxic substance or noxious influence. The usual story is, one person starts complaining of certain group of symptoms and others also show the same symptoms. The commonest symptoms in Mass hysteria include nausea, muscular weakness, vomiting, vertigo, abdominal cramps, headache, dim vision, unconsciousness and convulsions. This phenomenon is more among females, school children, and during communal feedings and social gatherings. Occasionally, mass hysteria may be related with witch-hunts, black magic and some superstitious believes.

However, care should be taken to prevent the over-diagnosis of mass hysteria, because, conditions like food poisoning, gas tragedies, medicinal reactions and epidemics are also common nowadays. Hence, immediate medical attention is needed to diagnose the actual reason. It is easy for a team of experts to distinguish mass hysteria from a real sickness or poisoning. In mass hysteria, no plausible cause is found and the symptoms are ambiguous. There will be rapid increase of cases with abrupt remission of symptoms. But, sadly, before reaching a final diagnosis, the news is spread in the media due to the high market value of sensational journalism!

Considering this phenomena, we doctors should always take some precautionary measures while conducting medical camps. Do not encourage on-the-spot administration of medicine; ask the participants to take the medicine next day onwards or only after reaching home.

Dr Muhammed Rafeeque, BHMS, PGNAHI.
Family Homoeopathic Clinic
Kerala, India.

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Comment by Dr Muhammed Rafeeque on May 14, 2011 at 7:50am
Thank u for sharing your experience on swine-flu-induced-mass-hysteria. The fear of epidemic is more dangerous than the actual epidemic. Epidemic related Mass-Hysteria is a blessing for the multinational drug business lobby. It is also funny to note that even during viral epidemics, antibiotics are sold like hot cakes!
Comment by dr geeta rani arora on May 11, 2011 at 3:42am

very interesting ,i think when there was swine flu attack in delhi ,there was a certain degree of mass hysteria for sure hundreds of patients lined up outside the hospitals with symptoms like bodyache ,weakenss ,feverish where as it was reported that number of diagnosed was much less as compared to reported cases.i saw about 50 patients in a wekk in those days coming with those kind of presentation ,but 50 % i gave medicine and rest were given placebo ,so we count these kind of incidences in mass hysteria ,i would like to know that ..its addded to my knowledge


Comment by Dr Muhammed Rafeeque on September 14, 2010 at 12:20am
True! during free medical camps, we should always take precautionary measures. Once the case is reported, the media will celebrate!
Comment by Gina Tyler DHOM on September 13, 2010 at 1:39pm
what we used; Bach Flower Rescue Remedy
Called in the local village Holi man
Comment by Gina Tyler DHOM on September 13, 2010 at 1:37pm
Good Subject! I witnessed this Mass hysteria when I was doing homeopathic volunteer work in Bali When all those Bombs went off(2005) while I was there. Mental and emotional Hysteria leadin g to all sorts of physical problems.
Comment by Dr Muhammed Rafeeque on September 8, 2010 at 12:29am
Thanks for adding more information.

Yes, we need to have a list of such events. It should be also noted that some vaccine tragedies are also reported as mass hysteria. When DEC tablets were given to prevent Filariasis, a number of people had gastric upset and vomiting, but there were no proper investigation- because it was over diagnosed as "mass hysteria". So, mass hysteria can also help the doctors!
Comment by Debby Bruck on September 7, 2010 at 1:21pm
Won't it be interesting to gather more of these types of events and see if we can sort through them.
Comment by Dr Guillermo Zamora on September 7, 2010 at 12:01pm
Dear Dr. Rafeeque:

Very interesting topic...Recently, we have seen that kind of Hysteria mass in México with the H1N1 flu case.

Comment by Debby Bruck on September 7, 2010 at 3:03am
This is a great subject, Dr Rafeeque. Humans have a tendency to 'suggestion.' This can be used in a beneficial way, and also a detrimental way. Many sociologists and scientist delve into the workings of the human mind to discover our idiosyncrasies and strange behaviors.

Contagious disease seems to be more than simply a virus. We 'catch' each other's moods, or if we yawn. When we are in a group or when we are alone, we act differently. A group can be whipped up to mass hysteria. If someone says the soup tastes bad, even if you taste the soup and it is good, perhaps you will change your opinion based on what someone else says. What strange creatures!

I found this article from 2007 about Mass Hysteria in Bangladesh, as you indicated in your discussion.

Suddenly groups of people, mostly young women were getting sick in tandem. Their sickness manifests as losing consciousness, seizing, twisting, bowlike bending of the whole body, experiencing severe belly pain, burning of whole body, severe headache, temporary blindness, vomiting etc. Experts called it mass hysteria. Simply a psychological phenomenon tempting and forcing the effected people to fake all these illness, whereas there is no real physical illness or problem. This illness has a contagious nature and people exposed to other hysterical patients are vulnerable to developing the disease themselves.

These phenomena typically are cared for by psychologists and counselors.

The blog went on to talk about National Mass Hysteria of hallucinations and delusions, specifically imagining a ruthless military government as the ultimate savours and the great emancipator. The people's hysteric support for the disguised military government has reached such an extreme that they have lost their sense of judgement and rationale. However it is expected that the nation will recover from the mass hysteria quite rapidly.

We automatically think of "ignatia mara" for the hysterical woman. Many of the remedies pertaining to 'delusions' may fit these situations.

I much prefer the positive side of contagious disease, such as when Happiness Can Spread.

Thank you for teaching more about how to deal with these issues and to determine when a real emergency occurs.

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