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  • Writer's pictureInquisitive Mystic

Vampires, Werewolves, and Rabies


Vampires, werewolves, and rabies…Oh, my! What do these paranormal creatures have in common with one of the world’s most deadly viruses? Join me as we sink our teeth into folklore, myths, facts, fiction, and some recent scientific studies!


Vampires

Vampires! We all know about these right? “I want to suck your blood!” Tales of blood drinking demons and vampires have been woven into folklore around the world for centuries. However, the classic vampire that we know today gained popularity (or should I say notoriety?) in the 1700-1800’s. Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, “Dracula” popularized the vampire as a pale, nocturnal, blood drinking monster that has become the subject of literature, film, and art throughout the years. Before I get to the connection between vampires and rabies I wanted to share some interesting vampire folklore and cultural beliefs with you!

Butterflies versus bats. While Dracula the Transylvanian vampire was able to transform into a bat, flying around to swoop down and drink the blood of unsuspecting victims, Slavic vampires were able to appear as butterflies. How utterly wholesome and non-threatening. The butterfly symbolizes a departed soul in Slavic culture. I’m not sure how the butterfly is linked to a vampire, but I love the idea that a cute butterfly might land on a flower or my hand during the day before sneaking through a window to drink some blood (hopefully not mine) at night.


According to some European legends, after turning female vampires could go back to their “normal” life. They could marry but they would inevitably exhaust their husband with their sexual appetite. Male vampires had the ability to father children, known as dhampirs, who could be hired to detect and get rid of vampires. Anyone else find it weird that a male vampire could sire a child that would one day hunt him and other vampires down, causing their demise? Seems like poor evolutionary biology to me.










How to Keep Your Deceased Loved One From Turning into a Vampire

During the vampire panic of the 1700’s a number of cultural practices emerged to prevent recently deceased loved ones from turning into vampires. Just in case you are worried about your loved one making “the change” here are a few non-advisable preventative measures.

  • Burying the corpse upside-down was a widespread European practice during the vampire panic. I’m not sure what they mean by burning the body upside down…Like upside down as in vertical head down in the dirt, like the way a bat would hang upside down? Or do they mean upside down as in prone position aka “face-down-ass-up” for my non-medical listeners.

  • Place a wax cross and piece of pottery with the inscription "Jesus Christ conquers" on the corpse.

  • Severing the tendons at the knees prior to burial.

  • Did you know that vampires suffer from arithmomania, a form of OCD in which you have an obsessive compulsion to count things? Well they do! Therefore, placing poppy seeds, millet, or sand on the grave site of a presumed vampire will keep them occupied all night because they are going to be waaaay too busy counting the fallen grains to go suck blood and turn other humans into vampires.


How to Keep Vamires Out Ya Space and Out Ya Face

Apotropaics (Ah-poh-troh-pay-icks) You know what I’m talking about right? Nah? Ok. Apotropaics are items or practices to ward off revenants aka vampires. Apotropaics are very common in vampire folklore. Garlic, being one of the most common examples.

Other means and methods of keeping blood sucking demons at bay include:

  • Keeping a branch of wild rose and hawthorne nearby.

  • Sprinkling mustard seeds on the roof of a house, again probably to keep them busy counting.

  • Sacred items such as a crucifix, rosary, or holy water.

  • Get thee to sacred ground! Vampires are said to be unable to walk on consecrated ground, such as that of churches or temples, or cross running water. Do shallow creeks or babbling brooks count? Because if they do, getting away from a vampire seems super easy…unless they turn into a bat and fly right over.

  • Less traditionally, mirrors have been used to ward off vampires when placed, facing outwards, on a door (in some cultures, vampires do not have a reflection and sometimes do not cast a shadow, perhaps as a manifestation of the vampire's lack of a soul.). I’m not so sure if this method is to keep a vampire away or more to assist with identifying if there is a vampire in your space.

  • Never invite them inside! Some traditions hold that a vampire cannot enter a house unless invited by the owner. Bad news if you do decide to let them in, after the first invitation they can come and go as they please.

  • You are not necessarily safe on a sunny day. Folkloric vampires were believed to be more active at night, however they were not generally considered vulnerable to sunlight. Oh no! Sparkly Twilight vampires may actually be a daytime threat!


How to Destroy a Vampire

Demon be damned! Methods of destroying suspected folkloric vampires varied greatly from region to region. Staking was the most commonly cited method, especially among Slavic cultures.

  • Wooden stakes driven through the heart, mouth, or stomach. Preferred woods are: ash, hawthorne, oak, or aspen. Fun fact: It is believed that Christ's cross was made from aspen. You can also try putting aspen branches across the grave of a vampire to keep it from rising at night.

  • Decapitation. Cut the head off of the vampire then bury the body with the head placed between the feet, behind the butt, or away from the body entirely.


Once You Are Pretty Sure That The Vampire is Dead...

  • Once the vampire is presumed to actually be dead it’s head, body, and/or clothes can be spiked and pinned to the earth to prevent it from rising.

  • Pour boiling water over the grave or incinerate the body.

  • Place garlic in the mouth of the dead vampire.

  • Shoot a bullet through the coffin.

  • If you’re German, place a lemon in the mouth…because Germany.

  • For resistant cases in which the MF refuses to stay dead: dismember the body, burn the pieces, mix the ashes with water, and have the family members drink the water.


Vampires and Rabies

In 1998, neurologist Dr. Juan Gomez-Alonso was watching a vampire horror film when he made the connection between vampires and rabies. He published an article titled, “Rabies a Possible Explanation for the Vampire Legend” in the September 1998 issue of Neurology. Dr. Alonso identified the similarities between vampirism and rabies symptoms as: insomnia, increased sex drives, more prevalent in males than females, and bloody saliva dripping from the mouth.


Another link between rabies and vampires is the emergence of the disease “hydrophobia” in the 1700’s. The vampire panic of the 1700’s was paralleled by the disease diagnosis, hydrophobia. Hydrophobia translates to “fear of water”. There were two types of hydrophobia noted in medical journals in the mid 1700’s, hydrophobia vulgaris aka hydrophobia rabidosa (rabies from the bite of a rabid animal) and hydrophobia spontanea (spontaneous hydrophobia that occurs in the absence of a bite from a rabid animal. This would later be attributed to the mental illness, hypochondria, not to rabies.). Hydrophobia was the original name of the disease that we now know as rabies. More on this in a bit. An important thing to make a mental note of here is that hydrophobia vulgaris aka hydrophobia rabidosa is acquired from the bite of a rabid animal. Perhaps the bite of a vampire?


Werewolves

Lycanthropy, or the werewolf affliction emerged in European folklore as early as the 1100’s, but tales became more widespread in the medieval period in the 1400-1500’s. It is believed that one became a werewolf after being cursed or by being bitten by a wolf or dog suffering the curse during a full moon.

After 1650, belief in Lycanthropy had mostly disappeared from Europe. Instead, reports began to attribute lycanthropy to a "disorder of the brain. Hmmm…Sound familiar?


Rabies was suggested as the origin of werewolf beliefs. There were remarkable similarities between the symptoms of the disease and behavior of the legendary beasts. The idea that being bitten by a werewolf could result in the victim turning into one, suggested the idea of a transmittable disease like rabies.


According to wikipedia, “The 1897 novel, “Dracula” and the short story "Dracula's Guest", both written by Bram Stoker, drew on earlier mythologies of werewolves and vampires. Count Dracula stated in the novel that legends of werewolves originated from his Szekely racial bloodline, who himself is also depicted with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf at will during the night but is unable to do so during the day except at noon.” Because…lunch time?...


How to Cure a Werewolf

In case one of your loved ones is struck with the curse of lycanthropy here are a few don’t-try-this-at-home remedies.

  • Get 'em all tuckered out! The power of exhaustion as a cure for lycanthropy is brought to you by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Medieval Europeans took a different approach...

  • They believed a medicinal (be it highly toxic and potentially deadly) treatment with wolfsbane could cure lycanthropy.

  • If the wolfsbane did not work and did not kill the afflicted you could try some old timey surgical bloodletting.

  • Shoot them with a silver bullet. Warning, this method may also kill the cursed human trapped within the werewolf body.

  • Finally, if all else fails and the werewolf is still living, call a priest because this beast needs Jesus!

I am sure it will come as no surprise when I mention that a majority of the aforementioned “cures” proved to be fatal to the patients.



Rabies

It’s science time! This virus is wild y’all. Why are we not more scared of rabies? I’m assuming because we have lots of preventative measures, prophylaxis if you are bitten, and transmission rates are really low. I’m just letting you know that the rabies virus is scary as hell.


The virus is made of 5 proteins and a strand of RNA. Sounds pretty simple. You are not going to believe me when I tell you what the rabies virus looks like. You know how the COVID-19 virus looks like a spikey golf ball? Get this, the rabies virus is shaped like a bullet. For real! A bullet shaped virus!

So, how do you get rabies? What happens? Remember when I briefly mentioned the two types of hydrophobia? Hydrophobia Rabidosa from the bite of a rabid animal and Hydrophobia Spontanea aka spontaneous rabies? As it turns out, there are no true cases of spontaneous rabies. All of these cases were patients suffering from mental illness and mimicking symptoms that were the same or similar to rabies from which they would eventually recover. Spoiler alert: If you have rabies and develop symptoms chances of survival are low, even today if left untreated this disease has a very high mortality rate, 99.9%. The rabies virus if left untreated actually has the highest mortality rate of any virus. Told you it was scary! The point I am trying to make here is that the real deal rabies virus is transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal; it does not occur spontaneously. Can you imagine the utter horror if it did?!?

What happens when a rabid animal bites a person? Quick review of the most basic immunology. When you get a wound or injury your body responds by sending platelets and other white blood cells loaded with T and B cells to the site. The plasma cells help to start the clotting process, stopping bleeding while the T and B cells fight infection and inflammation. Here’s where it gets tricky. Usually, a virus that enters the skin through a wound will hang out in the blood at the site of the injury, but not rabies. Oh no, rabies is way sneakier than that. Once the bite occurs the rabies virus immediately books it to surrounding muscle tissue. It then hides out in your muscles, hitches a ride on your neurons to your CNS central nervous system, and eventually makes its way to your brain. How quickly you develop rabies symptoms depends on how close the bite is to your brain.

Incubation can last from weeks to months. If the bite is on your leg or foot you might have a months before symptoms develop. If the bite is on your face you may have days or weeks.


Per the CDC website: “The first symptoms of rabies may be similar to the flu, including weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache. There also may be discomfort, prickling, or an itching sensation at the site of the bite. These symptoms may last for days. Symptoms then progress to cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, and agitation. As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, hydrophobia (fear of water), and insomnia. The acute period of disease typically ends after 2 to 10 days. Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive. Less than 20 cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been documented. Only a few survivors had no history of pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis.” (CDC, 2021).

Let’s talk about hydrophobia real quick. Hydrophobia is a trademark symptom of rabies. Fear of water, drooling, or foaming at the mouth, but why does this happen? I’ll tell you why. The reason rabies patients become hydrophobic is because the virus replicates in the saliva. You drool to avoid swallowing the newly replicated viruses. You fear water because if you drink any you would wash away all of those creepy little virus clones in your mouth. Honestly, this sounds like something from a sci-fi novel. Mother nature, you wild as hell. Can’t make shit up. I will say though that rabies is fairly inefficient as a virus in humans. The virus is transmitted by a bite from the rabid host. Biting goes against human nature, even in cases of humans with furious rabies (we’ll get to that in a minute). Therefore, once the human host dies from rabies the virus dies right along with us.


There are two forms of rabies. Unlike the two types of hydrophobia, both of these forms are real. The two forms are furious rabies and paralytic rabies. The forms refer to how symptoms present in the patient.


Furious rabies refers to the classic signs and symptoms that we think of in association with this virus. Furious rabies patients are hyperactive, agitated, or restless, hypersexual behavior, hyper ejaculation, hydrophobia, sometimes they develop aerophobia (afraid of fresh air). The disease can lead to rabies encephalitis (swelling or inflammation of the brain) during which time their mental status declines rapidly. At this stage of the disease death usually occurs within a few days.

Paralytic rabies accounts for about 20% of reported symptomatic cases. Paralytic rabies is a slower onset and far less dramatic. In paralytic rabies cases the muscles become slowly paralyzed from the site of the bite. The patient slowly becomes fully paralyzed, slips into a coma, and dies.

How do they test for rabies? In humans, antemortem (before death) rabies testing requires: Saliva, neck biopsy, CSF, and brain biopsy. In animals, rabies testing is typically done after euthanasia when the animal’s brain is removed and sent to a laboratory or the CDC here in Georgia for postmortum testing.

Treatment: palliative. Most patients with rabies do not survive and if they do they have huge neuro deficits.


Dr. Louis Pasteur, have you heard of him? Well he’s kind of a big deal. Aside from creating the process of pasteurization he also invented the world’s first rabies vaccine in France in the 1800’s. How? Oh, ya know, he just injected people with the spinal cords of rabbits that were infected with rabies. Science is bonkers. Am I right?!? Thanks to Dr. Pasteur’s diligent efforts, we now have rabies prophylaxis treatment. Luckily the treatment has evolved from rabid rabbit spinal cords.

If you are bitten by a rabid animal you have a window to get prophylactic treatment before symptoms occur. DO THIS BEFORE SYMPTOMS OCCUR! I can’t stress this enough. If you think there is even a teeny tiny chance that you may have been bitten by a rabid animal go get the rabies prophylaxis shots! It is a series of shots, yeah annoying, but less annoying than dying from rabies. Once symptoms occur you are pretty much toast. R.I.P.


Recent Studies

Shoot them with a silver bullet! A 2016 study titled, “Green Synthesis and Evaluation of Silver Nanoparticles as Adjuvant in Rabies Veterinary Vaccine” found that when silver is used as an adjuvant (substance which enhances the body’s immune response to an antigen) in a veterinary rabies vaccine as opposed to aluminum the humoral response (antibody immune response) is increased.

As mentioned previously, if left untreated once rabies symptoms occur fatality is almost always imminent. A 2019 study published on www.pubmed.gov looked into combination drug treatment as an option for rabies patients. The study, “Combination Drug Treatment Prolongs Survival of Experimentally Infected Mice with Silver-Haired Bat Rabies Virus” tested a combination treatment of antiviral drugs and immune modulators against the rabies virus. Good news, bad news. The good news is that survival times increased by about 48hrs. The bad news is the mice still died and we don’t really know what their quality of life was like for the extra 48 hrs. There are very strict protocols for humane treatment of laboratory animals. Therefore if the mice did show signs of suffering there were more than likely highly regulated and humane protocols in place to minimize their suffering. In conclusion, more research needs to be done in this area.


Conclusion

Fact: There is no cure for rabies. Scary, but true. The good news is that we have prophylaxis available. Again, if you have been bitten and you think there is a chance you may have been exposed to rabies. GO GET THE SHOTS!


More good news: rabies prevention programs and public health and safety measures have made tons of progress in terms of keeping us safe, healthy, and free from this deadly disease. Canine rabies has been nearly eradicated in America because of laws that require canine rabies vaccination and registration of animals with local governments to ensure vaccination compliance. In many places in the U.S. canines or kitties that bite and break skin must be reported to local animal control authorities and the health department. A domesticated animal that bites and breaks skin must do a 7-10 day bite quarantine during which times they are monitored for signs and symptoms of rabies. If a human seeks medical attention after a bite of an animal that breaks the skin and the animal’s rabies vaccination status is unknown then rabies prophylaxis is recommended.


The current culprit for a majority of rabies cases or exposures in the U.S. is…the bat…or is it a vampire?


Sources:

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