Men in a Central African village are living in fear of having their penis snatched, an American anthropologist reports.

University of California, Berkeley, geography fellow Louisa Lombard told CBC Radio's The Current about the case, in which two men in the town of Tiringoulou, Central African Republic, claim their penises have been shrunk to the size of a baby's after they were touched by a tea merchant passing through the village.

Psychiatrists consider penis-snatching a culture-based syndrome, and note there is no physical basis for it. Despite that, it has spread like mass hysteria — often spurred by word of mouth and tabloid media — across African countries like Cameroon and Nigeria since the 1980s.

Anthropologists have linked the disorder to fear of foreigners and economic inequality, though it also has a connection to witchcraft beliefs.

In some Asian cultures, penis-snatching is known as "koro." In 1967, Singapore hospitals were filled with men believing they had the disease, and that their penises were retracting into their bodies.

The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti spoke with Lombard as well as Deji Ayonrinde, a London-based Nigerian psychiatrist and medical historian about the phenomenon of penis-snatching.