Image Source: Dracula Pictures.
My earlier post on doctors didn't address the medical treatment of diseases now considered to be the real source cases for famous Hallowe'en monsters: vampires, werewolves and zombies. There must be something to this medical angle; stories about these creatures usually involve diagnosis or treatment of fictitious illnesses, or a single response (such as a werewolf's silver bullet), which can stop the monster.
There are pictures of sufferers of real likely source diseases below the jump; one glance shows how they probably easily inspired stories about normal people transformed into supernatural monsters. Warning: the pictures below are graphic; please don't click to see more if you don't want to see disturbing images.
"Plague patient whose symptoms include this swollen, ulcerated cervical lymph node." Image Source: University of Iowa.
Bubonic Plague. I suspect this is a wax recreation of the Black Death in England, possibly at Madame Tussaud's. The source site gave no information.
Rabies patient displaying hydrophobia. Image Source: Malady of the Month.
The island of Povegila is a very good example of how the terrible trauma of the Black Death haunts Europe to this day. Tales of vampirism may be associated with the Black Death (Bubonic Plague), as well as Rabies and vampire bats, but especially with the illness known as Porphyria:
Both Mary, Queen of Scots and King George III of Britain are suspected to have suffered from porphyria. The disease may have caused George III's madness, the subject of a well-received movie in 1994; his descendant, Prince William of Gloucester, was diagnosed with the disease. Some historians now suspect the artist Vincent van Gogh suffered from Porphyria, which adds a new dimension to his self-injury and eerie self-portraits. Porphyria sufferers were also suspected to be lycanthropes, or werewolves.Porphyrins (hence the lack of them gives you the name of the disease), combined with iron form hemes in the blood. Heme is what makes blood red. If you don't have the right porphyrin content, you don't have the right heme contents, and then things start to go bad. Prophyria imbalance can cause the following:
- gastrological problems (stomach cramping, nausea)
- neurological and psychological disorders (you get crazy)
- photosensitivity (intolerance to sun or bright lights)
- pigmentation of the face (skin changes color, usually getting lighter, losing color)
- anemia (blood deficiency) with enlargement of the spleen (an organ acting as a reservoir for blood)
- and excessive amounts of porphyrins are excreted in the stool and urine, giving it a dark red, bloodish color.If you look at all the symptoms of porphyria, you can begin to see how it could start looking like what we know as a vampire. Mentally unstable people, perhaps snarling, flashing their teeth. Perhaps biting others. Some people report that porphyria is helped by giving blood, IV. Back before such things, you might find people suffering of the disease drinking blood to help them feel better. They are photosensitive, their skin, in extreme cases, prone to blistering and burning in the sunlight, so they would have a preference to avoid it. Discoloration of the skin or loss of pigmentation, coupled with a low amount of blood, would give suffers a very pale appearance indeed. But before you say "Aha!" and pronounce this as the truth behind the vampire scares, be advised, this is a very rare disease.
Porphyria sufferer. Image Source: Drugster.
Porphyria sufferer. Image Source: European Journal of Dermatology.
Porphyria sufferer. Image Source: Wix.Werewolves
There is a psychiatric syndrome known as Clinical Lycanthropy, which involves a patient's delusion that he or she can transform into an animal. The disease Hypertriculosis is also called 'Werewolf Syndrome' because it creates abnormal hair growth that makes the sufferer appear wolflike. The 2006 movie, Fur, created an imaginary portrait of the photographer Diane Arbus and her neighbour who was depicted as having the disease.
"Stephan Bibrowski, also known as Lionel the Lion-Faced Man, had congenital terminal hypertrichosis." Image Source: Wiki.
Hypertrichosis sufferer. Image Source: Prime Health Channel.
It's possible that one source for stories about zombies comes from the 'Walking Corpse Syndrome,' an extreme mental illness where patients believes they have died:
The illness is also called Cotard delusion. I09 listed five other possible diseases that would mimic zombification: Sleeping Sickness; Rabies; Necrosis; Dysarthria; and Leprosy. Perhaps comas also inspired stories about resurrections from the dead. The flesh-eating bacterial affliction, Necrotizing fasciitis, is also a candidate.It is a syndrome of mental depression and suicidal tendencies, in which the patient complains of having lost everything: possessions, part of or entire body, often believing that he or she has died and is a walking corpse. This delusion is usually expanded to the degree that the patient might claim that he can smell his own rotting flesh and feel worms crawling through his skin. The latter phenomenon is a recurring experience of people chronically deprived of sleep or suffering amphetamine/cocaine psychosis. Paradoxically, being "dead" often gives the patient the nation of being immortal.
Of all of them, Necrosis - which may have a variety of causes - matches most closely; it involves the actual death of parts of the body. It's absolutely terrifying. Horrific enough, to make people think that sufferers were actually the 'living dead.'
"Example of severe tissue necrosis seen on an 11-year old boy following a bite from the Bothrops asper snake. Amputation above the knee would have been the only viable treatment." Image Source: Wiki.
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