Vampire Origin Story: How a Real Virus Inspired the Halloween Legend | Kathleen McAuliffe

Vampires were considered an actual danger in 18th century eastern Europe, but how did the myth come about? Science researcher Kathleen McAuliffe sheds new light on a famously murky legend. McAuliffe’s latest book is “This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society” (


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Transcript – One parasitic manipulation, and perhaps the oldest one known on the books is what the rabies virus does. As everyone knows once a rabid animal bites you the virus can then travel to the brain. And what it does is it invades the hypothalamus, which is the center of the brain that controls all our most fundamental drives, for example, anger and aggression, hunger and your sex drive. And it’s not commonly known but an atypical symptom of rabies is hyper sexuality. And people who become infected can occasional just develop this veracious appetite for sex. And there are a number of scientists who think that the vampire legend actually is based on rabies, that its rabies that was the inspiration for it because as we know, for example, vampires are hyper sexual.

Another aspect of rabies in people is that it makes people very sensitive to any kind of stimuli. So, for example, even the lightest breeze can make somebody agitated. And people with rabies also they hate strong light. It really bothers them. And they for reasons no one understands they become hydrophobic, which is to say they are tormented by the site of water or hearing water splashing in a basin. And if you think about vampire legend, vampires hate light that’s why they’re nocturnal and in the 18th century when a lot of vampire legends swept Eastern Europe it was thought that pouring water around the grave of a person would keep them from rising at night and becoming a vampire. Also in Eastern Europe at that time it was believed, and these weren’t just legends, they believed that this was a true risk, but it was thought that some people could rise from their beds at night and then assume the form of a dog or wolf and attack people or rape people. So you can see how vampirism may be in some ways inspired by what rabies does to people. Read Full Transcript Here:



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