These Parents Were Left Distraught When Their Children All Developed Werewolf Syndrome

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As soon as a baby is born, it’s only normal for parents to worry like crazy. But when 16 infants began to sprout hair all over their bodies, doctors quickly realized something was genuinely wrong. You see, the little ones had symptoms of what’s colloquially known as “werewolf syndrome” – and the strange diagnosis left their loved ones devastated.

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Now scientists refer to such a condition as hypertrichosis, and it causes hair to grow abnormally on the body. However, it can occur within a defined area, known as localized hypertrichosis, or it can spark growth across a person’s anatomy. For such a thing to happen naturally, a child would have to be born with a genetic mutation.

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But the 16 babies in Spain weren’t born with hypertrichosis. Sensationally, they acquired the condition in late August of 2019, after they had all been delivered. Undoubtedly, their parents were terrified by the development as they literally saw their newborns turn into “hairy monsters”. Fortunately, though, doctors were able to figure out the shocking cause behind the changes in their children.

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So not every case of hypertrichosis manifests in the same way. Indeed, the condition causes an abnormal amount of hair to grow, but different iterations cause diverse follicle types to pop up. And much of that comes down to the type of hypertrichosis that a person develops – acquired or congenital.

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For instance, a person who has acquired hypertrichosis may see unpigmented hair grow quickly on their face. The condition may also manifest itself as excessive hair growth on the cheeks, chin and upper lip. After trauma to a particular area, hair may start to appear more frequently and in a patterned formation.

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But with regard to genetic cases, first off, they don’t all look the same. For instance, babies born with hypertrichosis lanuginosa come into the world covered in lanugo hair. Now lanugo is the first hair babies have, which is thin and white, before they shed it for stronger hair. And most babies develop lanugo hair while in the womb, although they typically shed it before birth. However, those with this particular version of hypertrichosis come into the world covered in these thin, soft strands.

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Thankfully, in some cases, these babies’ lanugo hair will thin over time, making their condition less noticeable. But unfortunately, that’s not the case for those who develop terminal hypertrichosis. For they come into the world covered in hair, too, but it’s not the downy, fetal type as described above. Instead, they have permanent follicles all over their skin, which are coloured.

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Yes, because terminal hair grows in dark, long and thick strands. As such, terminal hypertrichosis has earned the nickname of “werewolf syndrome”. Indeed, those who have it arguably bear a striking similarity to the fantastical beasts. And, because of their unique appearance, those with terminal hypertrichosis have been pretty poorly treated over the years.

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At the extreme end, for example, “werewolf” men and women have taken roles as circus sideshows in centuries gone by. In fact, in the 19th century, Fedor Jeftichew suffered from the condition, as did his father, Adrian. And both performed in French circuses until Fedor signed a contract to join P.T. Barnum’s famous U.S. show. Of course, Barnum was recently portrayed in hit 2017 film The Greatest Showman by Hugh Jackman. Moreover, signing for Barnum took Fedor overseas to tour the United States in 1884, aged just 16. But Barnum couldn’t just tell the crowds the truth about this hairy looking man, could he?

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No, to stoke intrigue in Fedor’s act, Barnum came up with a false backstory about the boy with hypertrichosis. Firstly, he claimed that a hunter had captured Fedor and his father. Secondly, he said that the younger “animal” had refused to assimilate to the ways of man. To crystallize his inhuman characteristics, Fedor was given the nickname of “Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy.”

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With such a nickname for Fedor, Barnum could play up the hypertrichosis sufferer’s condition for the circus’ own gain. Namely, he talked up the boy’s resemblance to a dog, and that he would react similarly to a canine when upset. On stage, Fedor would oblige such an introduction, barking and growling for the circus crowds.

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Interest and intrigue surrounding those with the condition didn’t end with Barnum’s Jo-Jo, though. For Percilla Lauther came into the world on April 26, 1911, and her father instantly knew she was different. Not only did hair cover her entire body, but she also had two rows of teeth. What’s more, the public and medical experts in her native Puerto Rico gave Lauther plenty of attention.

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So Lauther’s parents brought her to the U.S., hoping that doctors there could provide more guidance. But after several months in America, her father came up with a different idea. Yes, he thought the family could use her condition to their benefit. In fact, he looked to create some sort of exhibition to show off her unique appearance.

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And once she began touring, the public came up with their own nickname for Lauther – “the monkey girl.” In spite of what might be considered a hurtful nickname, she somewhat thrived in her personal life. Actually, while performing in the 1930s, she fell in love with fellow circus member Emmitt Bejano, the “alligator-skinned man.”

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Nowadays, such circus acts would not be accepted as they were in the 19th and 20th centuries. But those with hypertrichosis still seem to experience ridicule and outcasting for the way that they look. Such is the case for 13-year-old Lalit Patidar, who told the Mirror that his classmates called him “monkey.”

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After giving birth, his mother, Parvatibai, said she was “amazed to see his body covered in an extraordinary amount of hair.” And while Indian doctors trimmed away the strands, they also told her right away that no cure existed for Lalit’s condition. Of course, this is the case with anyone who has congenital hypertrichosis.

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For Parvatibai, her son’s appearance did little to change her happiness in delivering a baby boy for the first time. She revealed, “I have five daughters and we prayed at a lot of temples to have a son. Our prayers were answered when Lalit was born. He is different but still very special for me.”

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And Lalit learned to deal with his condition, too, especially because those in his hometown got used to his appearance. As he explained, “Sometimes when I am out in a busy town, people come and stare at me. Some even call me monkey. There have been times when other kids throw stones at me and call me names.”

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Nevertheless, the Indian youngster has a simple outlook as far as his congenital condition goes. As he continued to explain to the Mirror, “I was born with too much hair on my face and this makes me different. Sometimes I wish I was like other children, but I cannot do much about it. I have gotten used to the way I am, and I am usually comfortable with myself.” Furthermore, he went on to reveal a personal dream.

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That’s right, Lalit aspires to become a cop, of all things. He explained, “I want to earn money as an honest policeman and with that I want to look after my mom and dad. They have done a lot for me.” In fact, when the Indian suffers at the hands or words of others, his “family and friends come to my rescue and defend me during such incidents.”

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Still, the 13-year-old admitted he holds out hope for a cure in the future. Although, he says less hair would make it easier to befriend other kids. As he went on to explain, “I sometimes wish to have some surgery to get rid of excess hair because I want to be friends with everyone. They shouldn’t hesitate to play with me…“If I didn’t have hair I’d be fine. No one would bully me.”

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As of now, Lalit and others who suffer from congenital hypertrichosis have no permanent cure at their disposal. Sadly, they can try temporary hair removal methods, which serve a cosmetic purpose more than anything else. For example, options such as shaving, waxing or threading can keep hair away for days to weeks at a time. But that’s not all.

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For doctors might also suggest a permanent hair-removal option, such as chemicals, lasers or a combination of the two. But such a treatment plan only works for pigmented hair – because laser hair removal doesn’t work for white hair. And this is because the device targets melanin [pigment] that resides in the lower portion of the follicle. Given this difficulty, what about the odds of medicine providing a cure?

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Well, medical professionals continue to work on other potential treatments. For instance, a testosterone-suppressing formula is still in testing. And another medication in the works would better regulate a hormone called luteinizing. Now doing this would reduce the excessive growth of hair that comes with hypertrichosis. On that note, it’s worth asking how many people are affected by the genetic variation of the condition.

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So hypertrichosis remains an extremely rare condition for doctors to try and remedy. Since the Middle Ages,for example, congenital hypertrichosis lanuginosa has only occurred in 50 reported cases. Furthermore, documentation in scientific journals tallies less than 100 instances of congenital generalized hypertrichosis, too. In short, you’d be fairly unlucky to be born with it.

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But part of this has to do with the fact that some cases of hypertrichosis receive the incorrect diagnosis. For you see, the condition is often classified as hirsutism instead. Now this is a type of hypertrichosis, but one that only affects women and children. In fact, it causes them to grow hair in patterns similar to adult males.

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Even with misdiagnoses, actual cases of hirsutism prove more common than congenital hypertrichosis in all of its forms. As one example, a surprising 10 percent of women between 18 and 45 will experience hirsutism. To that end, acquired hypertrichosis occurs more commonly than the version with which people are born.

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So, given its overall rarity, the case of the babies in the south of Spain developing werewolf syndrome was extraordinary. For you see, none of the 16 infants came into the world with hypertrichosis in the summer of 2019. But their parents had started to notice that their hair had begun to turn them into very fluffy beings.

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As it turned out, all of the babies had suffered from indigestion or acid reflux after their births. So, doctors prescribed them omeprazole, a medication that reduces the amount of acid in the gut. Also, omeprazole has plenty of common brand names, including Priolosec and Losec, and it can soothe peptic ulcer disease. So had the infants just suffered the side effects of this medicine?

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Well, no. You see, a pharmaceutical company called Farma-Quimica Sur SL, based in Malaga, Spain, shipped in the omeprazole from an Indian manufacturer. Within the ordered medications, though, were 50 faulty batches of the drug. And 30 Spanish pharmacies in the country’s Costa del Sol region received the faulty remedies. Crucially, though, each treatment hid a secret added ingredient, which shouldn’t have been there.

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That’s correct, the Indian drug-supply company had accidentally contaminated the omeprazole with another medication, minoxidil. And when applied topically, minoxidil serves a very specific purpose – it promotes hair regrowth in those with hair loss. In fact, around 40 percent of men who use the medication see hair regrowth within a half-year. But don’t let that fool you, because it can actually work on anyone, regardless of their gender.

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So, because their medicine contained minoxidil, the 16 babies in Spain developed hypertrichosis. Thankfully, though, authorities revealed that adults taking omeprazole to cure their digestional issues wouldn’t experience sudden hair growth. Yes, because the children’s version of the medication came in a different form than the tablets for older patients. Furthermore, the tablets hadn’t been affected by the contamination.

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To that end, authorities cracked down on the medication brought to Malaga via India. Namely, they had the contaminated batch taken out of circulation, and all remaining packets fell under recall. Also, they hoped to track down any missing containers of the medicine to prevent anyone else from contracting hypertrichosis.

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In the meantime, authorities issued a warning to parents who might notice sudden, excessive hair growth in their children. Yes, they suggested that any Costa del Sol-based parent who may have given omeprazole to their kids, speak to their pharmacy. That way, they could find out if it came from the contaminated batch. And the warning extended to adults with children who had no symptoms, yet.

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Sensationally though, as of early September 2019, the number of children affected by the mistake had risen to 20. And parents had lost patience with the situation – namely because they felt the government’s health authorities didn’t respond quickly enough. Additionally, they didn’t give parents enough information to deal with the contaminated meds, according to The Sun.

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As such, some families decided to sue the laboratory responsible for the mishap. In fact, one mother named Amaia, whose child took the contaminated medication, told Spain’s Antena 3 TV station, “We have been told nothing. I am furious, scared and feel misunderstood and a complete lack of empathy.” But there was some good news, at least. Firstly, the lab was shut down as a precautionary measure.

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Secondly, at the end of such a strange and scary ordeal, parents of the children affected saw a welcome transition. Yes, the babies that acquired hypertrichosis from taking omeprazole no longer experienced excessive hair growth once they stopped having the medication. Therefore, only a simple piece of advice was needed in the end.

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So while acquired hypertrichosis will only appear in patients after birth, it can come from a slew of sources. Obviously, the side effect of a specific drug is one of them. But the start of excessive hair growth also has links to cancer, as well as to eating disorders. And unlike those with a congenital condition, most acquired versions can be remedied.

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And this was the case with the babies in Spain, where removing the faulty medicine made things better again . As with congenital cases, laser hair removal treatments can also neutralize the appearance of unwanted hair. Sometimes, though, such a treatment does come with side effects of its own, such as hypersensitivity.

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Thankfully, the “werewolf syndrome” outbreak ended with relief for parents, even if there was anger at the pharmaceutical company responsible. For their families can return to their lives, safe in the knowledge that the appearance of their babies will improve. But there remain those who still have to live with the condition every day in their own communities. For their sake, let’s hope people reach out with an olive branch, rather than hurtful slogans.

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