How Rabies Spawned Vampires and Zombies

Ancient tales of vampires later split into two modern mythic characters: vampires and zombies. Movies characterize vampires and zombies as quite different, yet tales from history tell of vampires with characteristics of both: basically undead formerly-human monsters who want to eat humans. An article at the Verge compares the nonfiction book Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus and the novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War to show how the real disease rabies led to the vampire myth.       

Spanish physician Juan Gomez-Alonso explains four connections between rabies and vampire myths in a 1998 Neurology journal article, the most obvious being infection through the blood via bites. Rabies victims also often suffer from facial spasms, lending them an animalistic appearance. The third connection is the time frame: vampire lore had them living for forty days before being turned, the same amount of time it usually takes for the victim of a rabies attack to die after their initial bite. The final connection is probably the most surprising: sex drive. The insatiable sexual desire that’s a trademark of both traditionally gothic and sparkly modern vampires can also be traced to rabies. Male rabies victims often get involuntary erections and have spontaneous orgasms. Unsurprisingly, this was not often spoken of outright, but was alluded to in much of the early medical literature, with one eighteenth century Austrian physician noting “his seed and his life were lost at the same time.”

What's really scary is that 55,000 people still die of rabies every year. Link -via Digg

(Image credit: Flickr user Jere Keys)

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