Chorea or the dance of St. Vitus

According to the modern medical reference book, Chorea (from the Greek choreia - dance) is a disease of the nervous system, characterized by violent movements, which are characterized by disorder, fast pace, sweeping, irregularity, lack of stereotypicity, the possibility of simultaneous contraction of muscles of different location and function. It seems to be nothing ordinary, you never know there are human ailments. However, an interesting fact is that many centuries ago, a similar disease massively affected entire villages. Considering that chorea is not a contagious disease, let's figure out where is the truth and where is fiction.

So in 1374, residents of dozens of villages along the Rhine River suddenly felt the symptoms of a fatal disease - the dancing plague - choreaomania (or St. Vitus's dance). On the streets of these settlements one could see hundreds of people jumping and making knees for no reason. And they did it without musical accompaniment, although, perhaps, the music sounded in their inflamed minds. And they continued their dancing until, exhausted from hunger, insomnia and fatigue, they fell to the ground. The heels of the unfortunate patients were bloody. And then this strange plague suddenly ended - in much the same way as it began.

In 1518, another outbreak occurred. A woman named Frau Troffea, for unknown reasons, suddenly went out into the streets of the city of Strasbourg and began to dance. She could not complete her dance for several days. During the week, the number of dancing patients increased to 35 people, and by the end of the month 400 people were already moving in a strange dance. Dozens of people have had heart attacks, strokes, or exhaustion. From this they fell dead. And in this case, the dancing plague stopped just as suddenly.

Many scientists have tried to explain this "dance" riddle. For some time, the following hypothesis was popular: people were poisoned with bread infected with a fungus growing on wet rye stalks - ergot. Once in the body, it causes fever, convulsions, delusional states.

John Waller, professor of history at the University of Michigan, believes that this version is implausible, because the speech of the movement of the patients was precisely dances, and not convulsions. Another popular theory - the victims' involvement in a certain dance cult - was also rejected by the professor.

Waller proposed a third theory: these were psychogenic (caused by trauma of the psyche) massive diseases that caused fear and depression. Both outbreaks occurred during times of famine, crop failure, flood - what could be taken as signs of the impending biblical catastrophe. Fear of the supernatural could provoke a state of a kind of trance in people.

In addition, the dancing plague is associated with St. Vitus, a Christian martyr. According to legend, one could gain health by dancing in front of the statue of St. Vitus on his name day. For some, these dances could be the last chance to recover from a deadly disease, such as the raging plague, smallpox or cholera. This means that the idea of ​​saving dances was already in the subconscious of people. And to start this marathon during the epidemic, one person was enough.

The Strasbourg outbreak of the dancing plague was not the last, something similar in 1840 could be observed in Madagascar.