When we think of vampire folklore we tend to be reminded of several qualities that signify that someone or something is a vampire. Aside from biting, vampires are also known for avoiding sunlight, hating garlic, and having long sharp fangs. However, did you know that there is a real-life disease that can explain some of these unnatural symptoms? Sometimes known as the vampire disease, Porphyria, is a blood condition that sparked some of the key characteristics of vampires.
Porphyria is a group of related disorders that are mostly inherited. There are two types; acute and cutaneous porphyrias. Acute porphyrias mostly affect the nervous system, while cutaneous porphyrias, such as porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT), affect the skin. The main issue that connects these is that there is a disruption in the process that produces heme in the blood. Disruptions in the heme result in a build-up of chemicals and porphyrins that disrupt the transportation of oxygen in the blood.
There are many connections between the symptoms of PCT and vampire characteristics. Firstly, vampires like to avoid the sun. Individuals with PCT have photosensitivity, meaning that their skin is extremely sensitive to sunlight. When the skin is exposed to the sun, they can develop blistering skin lesions that are painful. The skin lesions can eventually lead to scarring as well as changes in skin pigmentation. It is advised that individuals with PCT should try to avoid sunlight to protect their skin if possible.
Secondly, vampires drink blood. This may have been thought up due to the result of red or brown urine in patients with porphyria. Alternatively, some have said that before modern treatments, physicians had recommended that patients drink blood to compensate for the defect in their red blood cells (although the recommendation was for animal blood). Nowadays, treatment most commonly involves having blood regularly taken to reduce the levels of iron and porphyrins in the liver. This method usually causes complete remission in most patients. Sometimes alternative treatment is needed such as taking low doses of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. These medications are most commonly used to treat malaria but can also be beneficial to those with PCT as they reduce the iron levels in the liver.
Lastly, the idea that vampires have fangs and hate garlic may have come from this disease. Repeated porphyria attacks can result in facial disfigurements and cause the gums to recede. Where does garlic come in? Due to its high sulphur content, garlic could trigger attacks in people with the acute forms of porphyria. This connection may then lead people to avoid the smelly plant.
Although vampires remain folklore, many of these vampiric characteristics are very real.
Wishing you a spook-tacular Halloween from all of us here at 3D4Medical 🧛🏻♂️