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Rare diseases that may affect you


Rare diseases are classified as those that are extremely uncommon with such low prevalence that a doctor would not attend to more than one case of that same disease over a long period – if ever.

Laughing death
Exclusive to the tribal Fore people of New Guinea, Laughing Death or Kuru is noticed by sudden bursts of fanatic laughter, unable to eat, stand and eventually die within a year. Holes in the brain are the main cause of death and passed on through cannibalism – ritualistic practice in which brain tissues were cooked and consumed. The epidemic was eliminated in the 50s with the end of cannibalism after claiming 1 100 lives. 

Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP)
Imagine having bone growths on your thigh muscles. This happened to American Harry Eastlack, in 1938. When he died aged 39 in 1973, he was able to move only his lips. His death resulted from (FOP), a rare disease affecting some 1 in 2 million people, in which the body's tendons and ligaments undergo a strange change transforming into bone. The deformity of the big toe at birth is a classic symptom. 700 confirmed cases, 285 of those in America alone have been confirmed. This disorder occurs in 1 in 2 million people, and there are currently no treatments. Any attempts to remove bone surgically results in the body producing even more bone.  

Moebius syndrome
An extremely rare disease, Moebius is known by complete facial paralysis. Sufferers cannot close their eyes, look from side to side, or even form facial expressions. Limb abnormalities such as clubbed feet and missing fingers are also common though patients lead long and healthy lives. Family members often learn to recognise body language, posture and vocal tone as communicators of emotion. 

Cotard’s Delusion, “Walking Corpse Syndrome”
This is rare mental disorder in which a person honestly believes he or she is missing body parts like the brain or is actually dead. Known sufferers rarely eat or bath – and often spend time in cemeteries. The disorder has been connected to a dysfunction in sections of the brain responsible for recognising and associating facial emotions, including their own. This process removes the sense of personal identity when looking at their bodies. Medications can be used in treating the condition (see image). 

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