Posted by: Tony Carson | 27 September, 2007

The meteor, the crater and mass histaria

You had to raise an eyebrow over that meteorite story from Peru and the ensuing sickness. Something travelling that fast, with that amount of scouring friction wouldn’t be a likely home to bugs or bacteria  or whatever would cause rampant illness.

Turns out the crashing meteorite probably precipitated a contagion of mass hysteria:

Media reports of the number of locals afflicted by a “mysterious disease”–with symptoms such as nausea, headaches and sore throats–after visiting the crater figured in every news article about the Aug. 15 event, with some reporting that as many as 600 people had fallen ill.

But doctors who visited the site told the Associated Press they found no evidence that the crater had actually sickened such a large number of people.

If noxious fumes did emanate from the crater, they were most likely the result of a hydrothermal explosion that could have actually formed the crater, or were released from the ground when the meteorite struck, if in fact one did, according to many geologists.

Arsenic is found in the subsoil in that area of Peru and often contaminates the drinking water there, according to Peruvian geologists quoted on Sept. 21 by National Geographic News. Arsenic fumes released from the crater could have sickened locals who went to look, said one geologist who examined the site.

Some health officials suggest that the symptoms described by the locals, the large number of people reporting symptoms, and the apparently rapid spread have all the hallmarks of a case of mass hysteria.

“Those who say they are affected are the product of a collective psychosis,” Jorge Lopez Tejada, health department chief in Puno, the nearest city, told the Los Angeles Times.

This psychosis could have begun as a result of fear of the meteorite and the mysterious “disease” on the part of the residents and spread as official and media reports seemed to confirm it and give it credence.

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