You better not shout, you better not pout. You better not cry, I’m telling you why. Slashy Claus is coming to town.
And he has a great big bag chockfull of HTLV-1 (Human T-cell Leukemia Virus type-1), and if you’ve been a good little infidel, he’s got a dose just for you.
Every year during the Islamic festival of Ashura, Shiite Muslims (also known as Shia Muslims) males of all ages hack themselves with knives across their skulls and/or flagellate themselves across their backs with chains that have either knives or razors attached to the end.
All this to celebrate a Muslim “holy day”.
As the Agencia EFE news service of Spain notes,
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and Ashura commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Shia Muslims revere Hussein as the third Imam.
Devotees were seen gathered around a “Zuljinah”, symbolizing the horse of Hussein, during one of the processions in Quetta, an efe-epa journalist reported.
Shias all over the world take part in large processions where they self-flagellate with sharp objects and beat their chests, mourning the death of Hussein, who was killed during the Battle of Karbala (in present-day Iraq) in the year 680, an event that solidified the schism that separates Sunni and Shia Muslims to this day.
But as it turns out, when festering skin infections and sepsis isn’t enough of a worry, along comes HTLV-1.
As noted by reporter Mike Strobbe of the Associated Press;
Researchers said Wednesday that they were initially puzzled how 10 British men had become infected with a little-known virus, because the men hadn’t taken risks usually associated with the infection.
But then investigators learned they had participated in blood-shedding religious rituals — cutting or whipping themselves — in Iraq, Pakistan, India and the United Kingdom.
“There have been suggestions that you might spread infections through this route, but it has never been described before” in a published medical study, said Dr. Divya Dhasmana of St. Mary’s Hospital in London.
The men were infected with human T-cell leukemia virus type 1. Most people infected with the virus never develop symptoms, but some develop terrible illnesses, like a deadly blood cancer or a debilitating nervous system condition.
HTLV-1 spreads through breastfeeding, sex, blood transfusion and sharing of needles. Experts have estimated that up to 10 million people worldwide are infected, though it is considered relatively rare in the United States and United Kingdom.
They came to the attention of researchers at St. Mary’s Hospital, which is a referral center in England for HTLV-1 cases. The mystery was solved when Dhasmana noticed scars on the back of one man, leading to questions that revealed all 10 men had participated in religious self-flagellation.
One ritual involves striking the forehead with a knife and then passing it along to other men. Another involves striking the back with a chain of blades or other bladed implement.
One man said that when he did it, the blades being passed around were soaked in a bucket containing an over-the-counter antiseptic solution. But that is inadequate to prevent spread of HTLV-1, Dhasmana said.
The practice of whipping or cutting oneself has been practiced among different religious groups, most notably by Shiite Muslims on the holy day Ashoura. Usually only men do it, and it’s controversial even within religious communities.