What’s the News: Things got very drowsy in China after the swine flu pandemic of 2009: narcolepsy, a neurological disease that involves sudden sleepiness, tripled in the months afterwards. Scientists have wondered whether additives in flu vaccines could be behind the spike of snooziness there and in other countries, but a new report says that even people who weren’t vaccinated came down with it. Could narcolepsy be caused by the flu virus itself?
Researchers have found good evidence that the troubling sleep disorder narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s own immune system attacks healthy brain cells. A new study published in Nature Genetics links narcolepsy to mutations of two genes involved in critical roles in protecting the body from disease. These two variations, they say, are likely conspirators against [cells that produce] hypocretin, a hormone that promotes wakefulness, and that narcoleptics have been found to lack [HealthDay News].
Narcolepsy is a disruptive disorder that can trigger “sleep attacks” without any warning during any normal activity. In addition, some people can experience “cataplexy”, where strong emotions such as anger, surprise, or laughter can trigger an instant loss of muscle strength, which, in some cases, can cause collapse [BBC News]. There is currently no cure for narcolepsy, although the symptoms can be largely controlled with a mix of stimulants and sleep-suppressing medications.