Step 7--Medical Information

Well, here is the part all the skeptics love. This is how medical research, cold hard facts, can prove that there are no vampires, rather, they can disprove corpses of old are vampires. Perhaps. They can only offer you convincing evidence that everything "vampiric" is normal. They can neither disprove or prove. Believe what you want...

The "Dracula Disease"

This rare disease known as the "vampire" or "Dracula" disease, or by it's proper medical name, porphyria (pronounced por-fer-e-ah, or por-fi-re-ah) is thought to be one of, or the reason for the vampire scares throughout time, in cultures around the world. It is very hard to describe it out of a nurse's dictionary-- it's a lot on the technical side-- but I'm going to try my best to put it in layman's terms.

First of all, porphyria is a genetic disease. Because it is hereditary, it can't be caught by blood or other fluid exchange. There shoots down all those old legends of vampires biting someone and they become a vampire themselves. If having porphyria makes you a vampire, then you cannot give it to others. You cannot make other vampires. You cannot "embrace" anyone. I'm not sure to what percent it is that it gets passed from parent to child, i.e. I'm not sure if 100% of children of a porphyritic (making up a word here) parent gets it or if 50% of them do, or if it passes more readily into one sex or another or if grandchildren are more likely to get it than children (as is sometimes the case with hereditary diabetes). The only sure thing is you can't get it through blood or bodily fluid transfer. Sorry if that ruins your evening plans of a little... necking.

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:

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. There are several classifications of it as well, not all of them having all of the symptoms. Those symptoms closest to being "vampire related" appear only in a handful of cases. As of 1991, there were only 60 reported cases of the form of porphyria, CEP, that has symptoms most commonly linked with vampirism.1

Quick facts about Anemia, Catalepsy and Porphyria


This is "a condition of diminished responsiveness usually characterized by a trance-like state and constantly maintained immobility. The patient with catalepsy may remain in one position for minutes, days and even longer."

Back before there were laws governing certificates of death and coroners who made sure you were dead, the science of declaring someone dead was not very precise, to say the least. It's not that catalepsy was so common as comas and near death phases were. After a traumatic accident, one may be breathing shallowly and the heart slowed. The person could go into a catatonic state, but not be dead. With monitors and such now, that's just part of being in critical condition; we know the person is alive. but in rural areas, miles and miles from medical help, often the person diagnosing death was a family member, friend, stranger, but too often not a doctor. Sometimes people knew how to check a pulse, which is your heart was still beating pretty well and they could take a good pulse, you were okay. But sometimes people couldn't take a pulse at all. The best you got was an ear pressed to the chest or close to the nose for sounds of a beating heart or breathing. Either of those too shallow for detection and you were pronounced dead. While wakes gave you roughly 24 hours to improve or die, you usually didn't have longer. Sometimes less, seeing how people did not have embalming and/or funeral homes with an air conditioner cold enough to frost the windows back in those days, funerals held in the heat of summer were often very, very quick. they wouldn't leave a body out long enough to see if it started to smell and was truly dead. Needless to say, many comatose people were buried alive in this fashion.

When you have people buried alive, you can easily see where vampire myths came from. "Partially eaten shroud" was often a sign of vampires. More often than not, it probably came, if not from bugs or natural deterioration, from people buried alive and hungry. Muffled sounds from graves and scratching in coffins on dark nights could have been those people wanting out, audible in the quietness of evening. Fresh bodies and blood and even screams as the heart of an unearthed vampire were staked can all be explained as comatose victims still alive in the grave, not undead. Because the fear of being buried alive was so great, some people went to great lengths to avoid it, stipulating in their wills to be laid out for three days to make sure they were really dead, not be buried until pronounced dead by a certified physician, to be exhumed three days after burial to make sure the body was dead, or some even had elaborate bell systems devised to ring on the surface if they moved their hand below.2

Well, enough proving vampires non-existent. Let's just say they do exist. Let's say you'd like to get bitten. But, oh, what to offer? Or if you're a writer, like me, where to have your vampire bite? Since we're already on the medical topic, let's go on and include this next section in it:

So many veins, where to begin?

Starting with the head down, I'll cover all the best places to "get a bite."

1As found in:

Great Mysteries of the Past
Edited by Gardner Associates
Readers Digest, pub.
© 1991, p. 284.

2The Natural History of the Vampire
By Anthony Masters
G. P. Putnam's Sons, pub.
New York, © 1972

All other medical information provided by:
Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Third Edition
By Dr. Benjamin F. Miller and Claire Brackman Keane
W.B. Saunders Company, pub.
Philadelphia, © 1983.

The above picture was taken by myself. Jerpoint Abbey. The carvings, tombs and other art work at the Abbey is some of the best in Ireland and is often featured in tourist books. Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland. © September 2001.

Celtic spacer bar reproduced with kind permission from: Karen Nicholas--Celtic Web Art

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Dictionary/Terms | Step 1, The History of Eastern Europe | Step 2, Pre-Vampire Entities | Step 3, Vampire Creation Myths | Step 4, How Vampires Are Made | Step 5, Vampire Folklore | Step 6, "Living" Vampires | Step 8, Vampire Names | Step 9, Vampires in Modern Culture | Step 10A, Vampire Book Reviews | Step 10B, Vampire Movie Reviews | Essays | The End | Home