As if swine flu weren't enough to worry about, reports have been coming out of Nicaragua of another illness spreading. Referred to by locals as grisi siknis—which translated from the indigenous Miskito language means "crazy sickness"—it has been causing mass hysteria among the population lately and has the Nicaraguan authorities at a loss for answers.
No one understands what causes the illness or why it has returned to the small northern port town of Bilwi on Nicaragua's northern Caribbean coast, but 80 cases have been reported in the last 2 months alone and the outbreak has local residents on edge.
The illness seems to only spread among the indigenous population and has primarily affected young adolescent Miskito women. The first reported cases of the sickness can be traced back to the 1800's, but the cause has left Western doctor's mystified. Professor Pablo McDavis has been researching grisi siknis in the Indigenous Diseases Department at Uraccan University for the last few years. "We have taken samples of blood from patients while suffering an attack and, in a lab, we can't detect anything," McDavis explained to the BBC. "Drugs or injections tend to only increase a patient's aggressiveness. Clinically we can't detect anything," he continued, "It is like an outbreak. If an attack is not contained quickly, it can spread throughout an entire community."
Some experts say the illness is mental and not physical but the Miskito population believes it to be tied to supernatural forces and demons that inhabit the earth. "There is more devil than God in the city right now," said Rev. Kenneth Bushey, of the Moravian Renovation Evangelical Church, where seven women took ill with grisi siknis during a youth group event last month. "God is testing our faith.''
Meanwhile, business for witch doctors and faith healers has been booming. Doña Porcela, a respected traditional healer, has been traveling the area, offering respite to those affected, "Grisi Siknis turns people into witches and they go crazy," she says, but she can cure people with a special concotion she has created. "It can be drunk or bathed in," Porcela explains, "Within three or four days, they are normal again."
Tell us: Should the Nicarauguan government be taking this illness seriously? Or do you think grisi siknis is supernatural hoopla?