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There aren't too many hypochondriacs who can brag about a disease that sounds as terrible as it looks. But if you've chosen to worry about scrofula, then you have made an inspired choice.

Swollen rubbery lumps in the neck are caused by festering lymph nodes that gradually become infiltrated by infected granulomas, swelling into grotesque masses that will make you head resemble a tree stump. In addition to forcing you to wear specially tailored shirts, scrofula can eventually kill you without treatment, although the disease usually drags along for years.

Scrofula was originally described 200 years ago in young children infected with an unusual relative of tuberculosis that can still infect AIDS patients or other people with a defective immune system today. The lumps are non-tender, frequently located at the angle of the jaw, and can eventually rupture, turning into ulcers that chronically drain infectious pus.

In Charles Dicken's times Scrofula was treated with skimpy clothing and lots of salt water baths -- with dubious results. Today antibiotics generally cure 100% of patients, and Mycobacterium scrofulaceaum generally ends up in the back pages of medical textbooks.

However, the adjective "scrofulous" is still a superb insult that will send your opponent scrambling for a dictionary.

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