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Bizarre Medical Myth Persists In Rural India

A man in Kolkata, India, walks with his monkeys as they are trailed by stray dogs.
A man in Kolkata, India, walks with his monkeys as they are trailed by stray dogs.
In India's remote and poverty-stricken areas, health resources and qualified doctors can be scarce. Many people still rely on faith-based healers, who sometimes promote outlandish theories about how the body works.

Shyamali Singh is a high-school student in West Bengal's Midnapur district who holds a wild belief about dog bites. He says getting bitten by a dog leads to the birth of puppies. The victim gets puppies inside his body and becomes like a mad dog.

So-called puppy pregnancy syndrome has a long history in the locality.

Psychiatrist Kumar Kanti Ghosh helped document the phenomenon for an article in the medical journal "Lancet" in 2003. His interest started when a 9-year-old boy came to his clinic about 10 days after being bitten by a domesticated dog.

"There was no issue of rabies," Ghosh said. "But he believed that he had developed a pregnancy with a puppy inside his abdomen. His parents said that sometimes he was barking like a dog and was crawling on his four feet.”

Farmer Gopal Singh is one of Singh's patients who was bitten by a dog about seven years ago. He says he went running to the faith healer -- who explained that puppies would be born inside his stomach and he would "become like a mad dog and die."

Medical doctor Sanjay Samui is frustrated by the tendency of villagers to cling to such beliefs.

He says they are uneducated village people -- they still hold on to such superstitions. He says he tells everyone it is impossible -- in no situation can a puppy be born inside a human body.

Doctors say it will probably take years to eradicate medical myths like puppy pregnancy syndrome among illiterate population. Because so many villagers distrust medical doctors, they say the media and local governments should help promote an accurate understanding of the body and what ails it.

Kurt Achin is a correspondent for Voice of America

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