Topic 7: The laughing Epidemic

The laughing epidemic is a lot like the dancing plague which you can read about in my last post. On January 1962 in a girls boarding school in Tanganyika there was a laughing Epidemic. No one is 100% sure what caused the epidemic but it is thought that someone told a joke in the morning of 30th of January. The three girls involved in the joke started to have laughing fits that would last for a few minutes while other times it would last up to 16 hours. This laughing spread to 95 other students in the 159 student school. Because no one could learn anything while these laughing fits had started they closed the school on March the 18th. Just like any other epidemic’s it spread across the region. With in ten days of the girls school closing down, about 217 people out of 10,000 people would suffer from these laughing fits. By the end of a few months possible 7 thousand people had caught the ‘disease’.  Slowly over a year later people began to stop laughing and the “disease” just died out. The people also suffered from general pain (I imagine it would be muscular pain in their stomachs because that happens when you laugh to much), fainting, breathing issues, rashes and crying.

There are a few theories on why this had happened but with little evidence and no recored fiorst hand recounts scientist can only guess, here are some theories:

The children where under a lot of stress, more than the average student, once a few girls started laughing other joined it-although that doesnt explain why it would effect thousands of people.

Mass hysteria, is when a couple of people believe they have caught a disease (whether the disease is real or not) after a while others start to believe they have caught it as well- although this doesn’t explain many details of the epidemic.

Some people believe that because people seen others laughing it made them laugh, and because everyone around them was also laughing it was almost impossible to stop.

“Last but not least avoid cliches like the plague”-William Safire



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