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February 24th, 2007

Experts Warn of Outbreak of 'Cry Wolf Syndrome'

Crippling Psychological Disorder Poised To Become National Epidemic

Cry Wolf Syndrome could reach epidemic proportions by the end of the decade.
Science - Brian Duran's life has been torn apart.

Brian was fired from his job as a computer network administrator when his boss tired of his shrill, daily warnings about virus infections and hacker intrusions that never happened.

His wife, Janet, has become desensitized to his constant tirades about the threat of cancer, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, and dozens of other ailments. She now smokes two packs of cigarettes a day and lives on diet of fast food and Snickers bars, saying that she needs these "comforts" to escape his endless badgering.

His two preteen daughters, on the other hand, have taken on their father's anxieties. Heeding his relentless warnings about neighborhood pedophiles and online predators, they avoid computers, rarely venture out of the house, and have few friends.

Brian can't control his urge to alert everyone around him to a limitless array of imminent dangers. At one time, he would have been called a worry wart, or just plain crazy. Now, doctors have a name for Brian's condition. It's called Cry Wolf Syndrome, or CWS.

"Cry Wolf Syndrome is poised to become a major epidemic in the United States," says Dr. Carlos Oveja, a leading scientist at the CWS Research Institute (CRI). "It can strike without warning, destroy lives and shatter families. Soon, it will rival heart disease and cancer as one of the major health problems facing our society. It could bring this country's health care system to its knees."

The CRI estimates that over 3 million Americans are afflicted with the disease, with most of those cases going undiagnosed and untreated. Treatment and lost productivity caused by the illness cost the country over $20 billion per year.

As the name suggests, the victim of Cry Wolf Syndrome is constantly sounding urgent alarm bells.

CWS sufferers are often confused with pathological liars, but there is a crucial difference. "The pathological liar tells lies that become more and more outrageous over time," Oveja explains. "But a person with Cry Wolf Syndrome gives warnings that are often quite credible. The warnings cannot be ignored altogether, because every so often they turn out to be true. After all, in the fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, the wolf eventually did show up."

The effects on the victim's family can be devastating. Often they will become completely numb even to sensible warnings, as Janet Duran did. Others, like Brian's daughters, heed the warnings too well and live in a constant state of fear.

The incidence of Cry Wolf Syndrome is increasing rapidly. "It used to be that I would only get one or two CWS cases per year," says Frederick Lupus, a clinical psychiatrist with a private practice in Chicago. "Now I get at least one new patient a week. I can't possibly treat them all."

No one is safe from the ravages of this disease. It can strike anyone the young and the old, both men and women even children.

Experts do not fully understand how CWS spreads. Some believe that its causes are purely genetic. Others think that it may be contracted by drinking tap water, walking outdoors on a cloudy day, or eating plant-derived foods.

Of course, everyone sounds the alarm bell every once in a while. But there are telltale signs that distinguish CWS sufferers from people who are merely excitable:
  • They use manipulative tactics, such as powerful stories of individual suffering, to give their warnings more emotional impact.

  • They vastly exaggerate the consequences of ignoring the warnings.

  • They fail to put their issues in perspective compared to other concerns that may be less dramatic, but equally valid.

  • They use dubious facts to support their claims, often claiming to have hard statistics on things that cannot possibly be measured.

  • When hard statistics are weak or unavailable, they cleverly use anecdotal evidence to bolster their arguments.

  • They cite evidence selectively. A CWS victim may quote an expert as saying that a problem is severe and growing out of control, but will not mention the hundreds of other experts who think the problem is a minor or manageable one.

  • They throw in sensational and alarming 'facts' that they admit are unsubstantiated, but are intended to unconsciously arouse the listener's most fearful imaginations.

  • They emphasize a dramatic 'silver bullet' solution to the problem rather than long-term solutions that are less exciting but more practical.
Hearing the urgent cries of millions of victims, the medical community is riding to the rescue. The British pharmaceutical company KDH is developing a drug that it claims can lessen or completely alleviate CWS symptoms in 90% of patients. The drug, which the company calls Cassandrex, is in clinical trials and may be on the market as early as 2008.

"We have spent over four years and two billion dollars developing Cassandrex," says Gerard Curtis, spokesman for KDH. "It will be the David that vanquishes the CWS Goliath. CWS will be the polio of the twenty-first century, defeated and all but forgotten."

Finally, the Duran family and millions of other innocent victims have reason to hope.