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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.

Rabies:

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

Vampires: Origins Pt 1 Porphyria

. . .I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart.

from Jonathan Harker’s Journal

Vampires. Love them. Hate them. They’re everywhere in one form or another. We all know them–mythological undead that feed on the blood of the living. Often described as gaunt and pale, Vampires have dated back from the early Nineteenth Century. Although they have been recorded in most cultures, the term vampire was not popularised until the early 18th century, after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe.

But what makes a vampire?

ORIGINS

Porphyria:

In the mid-1980s, police in Virginia arrested twenty-year-old Jeffery Wainwright for murder. The vic? Charles Brownell, a forty-three-year-old brick mason and self-proclaimed vampire and although he called himself a vampire all his adult life, no one took him seriously. After Brownell disappeared for two weeks, neighbours became suspicious when they found a trail of blood outside his apartment. What the police found inside, was a gruesome sight of human organs, tissue and blood. The police suspected Brownell of murdering an innocent then fleeing.

Scientific evidence proved otherwise, finding that the bloody evidence was of Brownell himself. What was most intriguing of all, were that tests of the victim’s liver showed that Brownell had suffered from porphyria, a rare genetic disease in which heme (the red pigment of the blood) is not properly biosnthesized, occurring in 1 of every 30,000 people.

To a sufferer, even mild exposure to sunlight can be devastating, creating lesions of the skin that can be so severe that the nose and fingers are destroyed. Although teeth don’t become longer, the lips and gums were said to recede dramatically. Not only that, but some sufferers were said to become hairy. Could what some people call vampirism simply be a case of porphyria sufferers trying to alleviate the symptoms of their disease? It is thought, that perhaps if a large amount of blood were drunk, the heme in it would supply the missing heme in the sufferer, although this method is not very efficient. Today, porphyriacts are treated with heme injections, however, in the Middle Ages, when injections were impossible, drinking large amounts of blood would have been the only way of getting the necessary supply of heme. Since death can result from heme insufficiency, it is expected then, that personality changes and dementia are psychiatric symptoms would occur.

And because porphyria is genetic, it is noted that many siblings share the same defective gene, with only one showing disease symptoms, creating local pockets of porphyriacs (such as mountainous, isolated Transylvania). It has also been noted that a strain on th system, such as the sudden and major loss of blood, can trigger the disease in a person already genetically pre-disposed.

What about garlic? In vampire folklore, garlic was used to ward off vampires. In many drugs and chemicals that destroy heme, there is a feature in common with the principal constituent of garlic (dialkyl disulfide). Which could result in both a deterrent and an increase of severity.

Of course, although we now know that porphyria patients are NOT vampires, porphyria might have contributed to the origin of the vampire legends.