Rachel is a living oxymoron, burned by water

by Angelica Basile - 2016.10.12
Rachel is a living oxymoron, burned by water
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Rachel Warwick knows that one shower too many could kill her. Since she is one of the 32 people in the world who is allergic to water. Rachel, 29 years old is an English woman who suffers from this super rare illness, called in scientific terms aquagenic urticaria, that affects one newborn out of every 230 million.

She was diagnosed at the age of 12. After having just finished swimming, she felt as if her entire body were on fire. A sensation not unlike that caused by fire, but more intense, on-going and diffused. From that moment on, only the use of super-strong antihistimines could keep her alive. There is no cure for her illness. She can wash herself only once a week and when she does, it’s literal hell. For this reason, she avoids sweating by wearing extremely light fabrics. She also has to avoid sports of any kind. And to quench her thirst, she has to drink milk instead of water. Even though milk also causes her problems, her body’s reaction to it is tolerable. When it rains, she stays home. And she tries to avoid watching any emotionally draining film that might cause her to shed a tear or two, which for her could bring about an anaphylactic shock. A life-no life situation. That is possible thanks to her husband who not only cooks and cleans, but who also has to be very gentle when he kisses his wife, seeing as saliva can cause a major rash.

What causes this strange illness? The most widely accepted theory is that it is not water itself that is the problem but rather, the chemical components related to it, such as flouride and chlorine. Another hypothesis suggests that the the cells of the superficial part of Rachel’s epidermis, called mast cells, might release an inflammatory protein called histomine upon contact with substances that are dissolved in liquid. Which, in turn, activate certain “itching neurons” that cause redness, blisters, welts, swelling and even vomiting.

Omalizumab, a drug used to treat asthma, might be the cure. It has shown promising results in individuals with very particular allergies, such as sun allergy. But due to the fact that there have been no clinical trials for its use in Rachel’s illness (not a possibility due to the limited number of people with the condition) the British healthcare system will not cover the cost of this extremely costly therapy. The consequence being that it is impossible for her to pay the thousands of pounds a month that would be necessary. In the meantime, while the medical community decides or not to take up her cause and that of the other 31 people in the world with the same condition, Rachel can only try her best not to cry or sweat. And to kiss her husband as little as possible.

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