11/24/04  Mad Republican Disease

As I was surfing the Internet today, I came across the latest edition to the saga of Mad Cow Disease in America.  It seems that the USDA has conducted days' worth of tests and declared our steaks and burgers in America to be safe.  Three cheers for the $40 billion a year beef industry!  With the Bush administration's overwhelming sympathy for all manner of industries over the individual, one has got to wonder just how safe that Big Mac really is, though.

Interestingly, as these things often happen, during my surfing, I stumbled across another syndrome which I found quite fascinating and disturbing.  It seems that CDC (Cognitive Dissonant Central) has uncovered a new prion disease variant that is quietly sweeping through and devastating our country.

Symptoms of this disease tend to mimic early-stage Alzheimer's in many ways.  However, there is not the overwhelming loss of motor function seen in Mad Cow disease, until the very end stages.  In case you're interested these are the symptoms and signs:

1) Delusions of Grandeur. The afflicted person begins to assume that they have powers and or influences which they really do not.  They often assume that they know everything and understand everything and are capable of doing no wrong.  When pressed, they are frequently incapable of admitting even the smallest of shortcomings or mistakes.

2) Hyper Religiosity.  The afflicted person often relates a one-to-one relationship with a higher power, and frequently will relate that this higher power speaks through them.  This can progress at times to a full-blown messianic complex in which the individual may claim to be Jesus incarnate.  At the very least, they will frequently admit a personal relationship with Jesus, in spite of the outwardly obvious fact that they do not attend church.

3) Memory Dysfunction.  In contrast to Alzheimer's disease both short-term memory and long-term memory may be affected.  When confronted, an individual may attempt to socially dodge certain issues.  Rather than accept responsibility for their own actions they will refer to the confrontations as "exaggerations", or often become angry and rail at their confronters as liars.  In the end stages, this social dodge often deteriorates to profanity, with the individual simply uttering "F -- -- -- You!” when confronted.

4) Language Dysfunction.  This can result in a global deterioration of multiple aspects of language.  Most frequently and publicly this manifests as a multitude of malapropisms and confusing mixed metaphors.  This can also frequently result in a loss of ability to read and comprehend written material.  Individuals afflicted will often relate that they are too busy to read, and rely upon others to do this for them.

5) Social Withdrawal.  As the disease progresses, the individual may become more withdrawn, often surrounding themselves with only people who are easily manipulated and very unlikely to disagree with them.  This presumably reduces anxiety and psychological tension as the disease progresses.  Interestingly, in this matter, sufferers from the disease appear to naturally congregate.  As the social withdrawal progresses it begins to affect work and careers.  Often observed will be long unexplained absences and extended vacations.

6) Inappropriate Behavior.  In the later stages, victims of this disease often display a Tourette type of behavior best described as a complex motor tic.  This can take the form of obscene gestures at inappropriate times.  Also, in combination with the progressing memory dysfunction, lapses in self-care can occur, with an example being frequent "XYZ" episodes.

7) Global Musculoskeletal Deterioration.  In the end stages, not dissimilar to Mad Cow Disease, there is a subtle deterioration of muscular function and coordination. Often the first subtle sign will be a lack of coordination in eating and swallowing functions.  As the disease progresses, frequently observed are multiple falls at times during exercise or leisure where once the victim seemed to have no problems.

8) Confabulation.  This is perhaps the most disturbing and frustrating symptom of all.  As the disease progresses the victim is prone to all manner of implausible stories and excuses to account for their increasingly bizarre behavior.  This can manifest as frank paranoia in later stages, while simultaneously maintaining a rosy outlook upon life.  Often friends, coworkers and family members are deceived by the "happy face" put forward by the victim while everything around is crumbling.

9) Aggressive Behavior.  In the final stages the victim, disturbingly, goes out of their way to inflict mental or physical harm on others, or to cause this to happen.  This is frequently tied into the confabulatory fantasies as noted above, with as the victim at this point becoming a real danger to society.

Being a new, orphaned disease little is known about the etiology behind this prion infestation.  It appears that once the disease has established a foothold it inexorably progresses through the above stages, resulting in little hope for the victim.  There is no pharmacologic cure for this disease, but some experts have suggested that Prozac may be of some palliative help.

Research is progressing slowly, and offers some hope for the future.  At this point in time it appears that, as is the case for many diseases, prevention is the cure.  There are a number of steps that the average person can take in his or her daily life to actually prevent or indeed reverse the process of the infestation.  The prion seems to be highly susceptible to destruction through simply increased CNS metabolism.  If you find yourself feeling chronically tired, anxious, or angry take time for yourself to sit down and think quietly through your problems and then discuss them with others.  It is felt that this simple yet often difficult activity creates an environment unfavorable for establishment of the prion.  The danger of infection seems to increase the more that one relies on easy, emotionally fed solutions and thoughts.

The mechanism behind transmission is unclear at this point.  There appear to be some dietary correlates in that the disease seems to be remarkably associated with $20,000 per plate fund-raising dinners.  A past or current history of alcohol or drug abuse, as well as chronic exposure to pesticides seems to also increase the possibility for infection. There is also an argument for fecal oral transmission, but in the sense that the "smelly" excessive verbiage from the victim appears to be capable of spreading the prion to anyone nearby who is susceptible.  It also does appear likely that residences can become contaminated and therefore a danger to public health.  This argues that the prion has some stability outside of the human environment and possibly the ability to remain in hibernation for some time.

Epidemiologists have begun reviewing mounting evidence that former President Ronald Reagan may have actually succumbed to this ailment and had been misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer's.  Preliminary investigations into the presidency of Richard Nixon have begun as well.  While it does not stand up to strict scientific scrutiny, visitors to Washington, DC may be well advised to abstain from tours of the White House to avoid the possibility of dormant prion infestation. 

In light of the possible connections to the White House itself and the similarity of the symptoms to Mad Cow Disease, CDC is proposing a couple of possible names for this new prion infestation.  To avoid possible confusion with "The Madness of King George", proposals include MPD or Mad President Disease, or MRD for Mad Republican Disease.  In light of the epidemic spread across our nation, perhaps MRD is the better choice. 

If caught early enough, “MRD” is entirely reversible with few remaining sequelae. Sufferers need not be quarantined or otherwise ostracized provided the general public is educated as to the proper precautions. In fact, repeated exposure and dialogue with healthy individuals can have positive benefits for sufferers, and possibly become curative.