Portuguese soap opera causes mass illness. Or does it?


Mass hysteria has always been a matter of considerable interest to Forteans. From the panic surrounding Dionysian orgies in the Roman Empire (with the associated fear of sexually transmitted diseases) all the way through to Avian Flu, our history is littered with examples of large groups of people utterly losing the rag when confronted with stories of possible contaminants. And often in these cases it has mattered not whether the illness was real or not. This recent example from Portugal is interesting because we categorically know that there is no illness whatsoever – because a teenage soap-opera made the whole thing up.

    An illness that medical officials are calling the “Strawberries with Sugar Virus” is sweeping Portuguese schools as children complain of symptoms similar to those suffered by characters in a television soap opera.

    More than 300 children have complained of symptoms including rashes, breathing difficulties and dizziness at 14 schools in different parts of the country. Some schools have been forced to close.

    The outbreak came a few days after the popular “Strawberries with Sugar” teenage television show aired an episode about a life-threatening virus descending on a school.

Of course the cynic in me suspects that the upcoming exams might have had something to do with this, but nonetheless this is an interesting example of psychosomatic illness induced in a large group. Anyone else got any other examples of mass-illness induced by TV?
Strawberry virus’ forever.

Damien DeBarra was born in the late 20th century and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. He now lives in London, England where he shares a house with four laptops, three bikes and a large collection of chairs.


  1. The causing of mass epileptic seizures across japan by a flashing image in an episode of Pokemon. This was of course real rather than psychosomatic. The funniest part was that a news station repeated the same piece of the cartoon on it’s report later in the day causing even more seizures !

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