Pop Culture, Real Life
In books, movies and television shows, vampires have sunk their fangs into pop culture's collective consciousness.
While true, undead vampires do not exist, some diseases and disorders show themselves in ways that are similar to vampiric characteristics. From sunlight intolerance to an aversion to garlic and mirrors, here are six illnesses that, to some extent, cause people to act like vampires.
Aversion to garlic
The fear of garlic, or alliumphobia, is a neurosis that causes people to become freaked out by the mere thought of the stinky plant. In clove form or sprinkled over a pizza, garlic will send alliumphobiacs running in the other direction. Just being in proximity of garlic is enough to trigger a severe panic attack or anxiety for a person suffering from this rare phobia.
The legend that vampires are repelled by garlic stems from its use as a way to ward off evil spirits in southern Slavic countries and Romania. It was believed that those who refused to eat garlic were vampires, and cloves of garlic were placed in the mouths of the deceased prior to burial to prevent them from turning into vampires, according to "In search of Dracula: the History of Dracula and Vampires," (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994).
Rabies, or hydrophobia, is a disease that causes people to display several vampire-like symptoms, including the desire to bite others. The rabies virus attacks the nervous system and can also cause oversensitivity to sunlight and to other visual stimuli, such as mirrors. The word rabies means "rage" or "madness" in Latin, and was so named because people who contract it often become delirious, aggressive and suffer from hallucinations.
The disease can also affect portions of the brain that control sleep patterns, leading to insomnia, nocturnal sleeplessness and hypersexuality, behavior that shadows the image of a sinister Nosferatu creeping into a dreaming damsel's bed chamber in the middle of the night.
Bites from bats, which vampires are often depicted as turning into, are the most common source of a rabies infection, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, two strains of the rabies virus in several European countries can only be transmitted to humans by bats and are therefore known as bat rabies.
Hatred of mirrors
Although vampires are depicted as being invisible in mirrors, a real disases, Eisoptrophobia, also known as catoptrophobia, causes people to fear them. This can be brought on by a traumatic event, or formed as a result of deep-seated fears, such as seeing as seeing a horror movie involving mirrors as a child. For people with this disorder, the mere sight of a mirror can bring on an anxiety attack.
Some sufferers of eisoptrophobia believe that looking into a mirror will summon the supernatural, and some think they are being watched through the mirror. Others with the disorder can only stand to look at a mirror for a few seconds, and say that if they look at it for too long, they get the feeling that the person looking back at them is not really them at all, according to "An Excess of Phobias and Manias," (Senior Scribe Publications, 2003).
Vampires' legendary distaste for mirrors traces back to European myths that they don't have a reflection because they have no soul. Because being unable to stand the sight of a mirror is also one the symptoms of rabies, some believe that this vampire myth originated during a rabies epidemic that took place in Europe in the 1700s.
A thirst for blood?
In 1985, a scientist claimed to have found a disease that linked the myth of vampires to a very real genetic blood disorder called porphyria. People with porphyria experience the desire to drink human blood to alleviate their symptoms (the genetic disease causes abnormalities in a person's hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells), declared biochemist David Dolphin. His theory was later refuted and proven to be based on a misunderstanding of the disease.
However, one of the real symptoms of the rare disease is a sensitivity to sunlight, with blisters forming on the skin within several minutes of sun exposure. Another real symptom is red-colored urine, according to the Mayo Clinic, and may explain why historically, people may have suspected porphyria sufferers of drinking blood.
Arithmomania is the obsessive need to count things, and has a little-known, but deeply rooted, presence in vampire tales. For centuries, it was believed that besides garlic and crosses, one fool-proof defense against vampires was math. To deter a vampire, one only had to throw a handful of rice or seeds and run away, as the vampire would be unable to resume the chase until he or she had counted every single grain.
During the Middle Ages, people poured poppy seeds in the coffins of loved ones before burying them in holy ground, hoping that it would distract a vampire from biting the deceased, according to "Mindsamaze," (Hodgson Press, 2008).
This explains why Count von Count, the calculator-hating, cheerfully spooky vampire-like Muppet on "Sesame Street," is obsessed with numbers and counts anything that comes his way, sometimes resorting to counting his own fingers when there is nothing else around to count. While the character is more silly than scary on the children's show, every one of the Count's counting sessions are followed by a sinister crack of thunder and a flash of lightning.
Hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia is a rare genetic disorder that affects tooth development. It causes a person's teeth grow in abnormally, and at a later than average age. In some cases, many of the person's teeth are absent except for the canines, which in effect appear to be protruding, and the teeth that do grow in are pointed, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Every human has canine teeth, the sharpest, pointiest teeth in the mouth that are used for biting food rather than chewing it, which is mostly the job of the back teeth. While vampires have been depicted with eerily long fangs for centuries, it wasn't until the late 20th century that vampires began to be shown with retractable fangs.
Fans of the show "True Blood" are familiar with a vampire's tendency to swiftly sprout fangs only when they are about to feed, while hardcore "Twilight" fans, or "Twihards," are aware of the fact that Stephenie Meyer chose to portray her vampires completely without fangs.
Scorched by sunlight
An extremely rare genetic disorder, xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP, causes a person's DNA to be unable to effectively repair the damage caused by ultraviolet light. One in a million people have the disorder in the United States, according to the Xeroderma Pigmentosum Society (XPS). People with XP develop severe sunburns when exposed to even a small amount of sunlight. While the seriousness of the disorder varies, in extreme cases, all exposure to sunlight is strictly forbidden.
When a person with XP is exposed to direct sunlight, their skin can blister and develop oozing, raw wounds on its surface. Even some indoor lighting, such as incandescent light bulbs, emit UV rays and should be avoided, according to the XPS. Other symptoms of XP include a painful eye sensitivity to the sun, causing them to become irritated and appear bloodshot, as well as a glossy white thinning of the skin.
Sorry, Twihards, none of XP's symptoms include sparkling in the sunlight like Edward Cullen. While Edward seems to be an unusual vampire due to his ability to handle sunlight, older versions of vampires, including John Polidori's 1819 short story "The Vampyre" and James Malcolm Rymer's "Varney the Vampire," published in 1845, were able to walk in sunlight without a problem. Traditionally, vampires are nocturnal creatures because it is easier for them to stalk human prey at night.
This article was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience.