Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vampires versus Raccoons

Sometimes reading two books at the same type can spark a crossover thought.  I'm reading F. Paul Wilson's classic horror THE KEEP about a mysterious creature murdering German soldiers in 1940s Romania.  And I just finished another thriller where a key part of the mystery involved a character with rabies.

The character in the thriller suffered fever, sore throat and anxiety, which eventually ramped up to hallucinations, broken sleep cycles, fear of water, hypersexuality, aggression, and hypersalivation.  The author also had a scene where the investigators find a copy of Bram Stoker's DRACULA in the character's apartment.  And I thought, "Wow, rabies does seem a lot like vampirism.  Or rather, vampirism seems a lot like rabies."

A quick visit to the Internet revealed that others made this connection years ago.  Personally, I've never been all that fascinated with vampires, but many people are.  I am more interested in rabies, which is scarier than any vampire, especially the glittery kind.  If a person who is bitten is treated soon after, they won't develop rabies.  But if untreated, once rabies reaches the point where symptoms develop, it's almost always fatal.  And the incubation period is odd--anywhere from several days to more than a year, with the norm of two to three months.

People have been aware of this danger for a long time.  The Codex of Eshnunna dating to 1930 BC in ancient Ur mentions the disease.  The Sanskrit word 'rabhas' means 'to do violence.'  And our modern word derives from the Latin 'rabere' or 'madness.'  A rabies epidemic moved through Europe in the 1700s, with a particularly bad outbreak in Hungary from 1721-1728 where dogs and wolves bit people.  This may explain a lot of the vampire folklore from that area and time.

So the chances of a cute vampire biting you are slim, but if a dog or a raccoon or any other animal bites you, go to the hospital.  Don't be one of the 55,000 people around the world who die from rabies each year.

(Research for this article came from webmd, wikipedia and this BBC article.)

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