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Vampires: Pt 2. Rabies

All was dark and silent, the black shadows thrown by the moonlight seeming full of a silent mystery of their own. Not a thing seemed to be stirring, but all to be grim and fixed as death or fate, so that a thin streak of white mist, that crept with almost imperceptible slowness across the grass towards the house, seemed to have a sentience and a vitality of its own.

from Mina Harker’s journal

Legend tells us that vampires come out at night. They are night creatures because the sun can hurt and even kill them. They come out at night to seek fresh blood because without it they will suffer agonizing pain and will die. Their bodies dry up due to lack of blood, and new blood refreshes their bodies and gives them energy and certain powers.


Another disease, often attributed to vampire legends is rabies which is caused by a virus transmitted through an infected animal’s saliva, most commonly by bats, foxes and other medium sized animals. Since bats are often commonly associated with vampires, it has been inferred that people who contracted rabies from bats were thought to be bitten by vampires.

Excessive saliva and foaming of the mouth and uncontrollable painful throat spasms, the individual suffers from overwhelming thirst but cannot drink. Restlessness. Agitation. Paranoia. Insomnia. Hallucinations. Even seizures. A person with rabies, left untreated, enter a coma and eventually, die. Sufferers of rabies are also prone to experiencing a hypersensitivity to light, strong smells (like garlic) and noise.

After a person was bitten by a bat, they would show symptoms not unlike vampires– unable to quench their thirst, hypersensitive to strong stimuli, as well, often repelled by light, by bright things — such as mirrors, and by strong odors — including the smell of garlic. Because the virus affects the limbic system, the part of the brain that influences aggressive and sexual behaviour, people with rabies tend to be aggressive and may attempt to bite others. The virus also affects the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls sleep. Because of this, many patients suffer from insomnia.

Not only do people with rabies have symptoms strikingly similar to the traits ascribed to vampires, but the vampire legend also originated in eastern Europe in the 18th century — the site of a major rabies outbreak in the 1720s.

Nowadays, vampires are generally seen as fictional characters. However, almost three centuries ago, the concept and word “vampire” were seen as a real threat.

. . .you are too prejudiced. You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you. Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are; that some people see things that others cannot? But there are things old and new which must not be contemplate by men’s eyes because they know — or think they know — some things which other men have told them. Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs, which think themselves new; and which are yet but the old, which pretend to be young — like the fine ladies at the opera.

Professor Van Helsing to Dr. Seward