It’s Rabies, Baby!: The Origin of the Werewolf Myth

It may be the butt of jokes now, but at one point the rabies virus is the most dangerous viruses in the world . The rabies virus is almost as ancient as man kind, its history goes back all the way to  2000 BC where it was well described in Egyptian writings. In fact the word “rabies” comes from the Latin word for “madness”, indicating that the symptoms of those infected hasn’t changed much in the last 4,000-something years. Aristotle even goes out of his way to mention the virus in his writings, the Greeks actually had two Gods they prayed to in the case of rabies: one to prevent the contraction of rabies (Arisaeus) and one to heal rabies in an infected person. Celsus, another fancy Greek philosopher much later than Aristotle, was the first to suggest an actual medical solution to the problem. He suggested that the saliva from an infected person contained the virus (or poison as they called it in ancient times) he recommended cleaning, sucking, and cauterizing the bite wound before leaving it open so that the virus could drain out, this treatment plan was used for 1,800 years.

Syrian doctors were the first to recognize the symptom of hydrophobia in patients suffering from rabies, their solution was to hide water inside drops of honey in attempts to keep the patient hydrated and alive. During the 15th century Spain was ravaged by the virus and from there the virus spread among dogs to Flanders, Austria-hungary, France, and Turkey. In fact, in 1719 rabies was one of the most common diseases in Paris (and that’s saying something), it even began to spread to wild wolves and foxes. Before long, rabies was spread to the New World where the first report was in Mexico in 1703. But it wasn’t just dogs and humans that were affected, many reports state that pigs, cows, and other farm animals we’re also foaming the mouth.

So, you have a virus that:

  1. Is spread through wild animal bites.
  2. Most commonly found in wolves, dogs, and foxes.
  3. Leads to similar symptoms in both the human and the animal.

And a society that is:

  1. Highly religious and superstitious.
  2. Lacks any scientific information about viruses.
  3. Is totally freaked out by the whole foaming thing.

I guess you can guess what happens next. The werewolf myth is born.

Though historical myths about diseases and conditions (lepers, PMS, etc.) are usually ridiculous, and almost always offensive, this one actually makes perfect sense. In fact, when you look at this video of a patient with the virus you may also think, whoa is that a werewolf? A zombie? Lindsay Lohan?

If you’re still thinking ‘No, I wouldn’t be fooled by that…’ then you: a) seem kind of like a jerk and b) need me to further convince you.

Initially when a patient is infected with the rabies virus they express a desire to be left alone, to have quiet, and to stay away from bright light and water. Later on in the disease these people either erupt into random fits of madness (which can include: foaming at the mouth, changing of the voice, acting like animals, and increased aggressiveness), or have moments of complete sanity where their original personality returns. Also, let’s not forget that one becomes sick when they are bitten by another organism that displays these exact symptoms.

If that doesn’t sound like Jacob Black’s entire character, then I don’t know what else does… Even though I suppose his condition is genetic, not viral… just another thing that sucks about him. Not that he’s the worst werewolf ever, that would be Oz from Buffy, even in the 90’s that makeup was not acceptable.

I'm not lame, I'm cool.

I’m not lame… 😦

Seriously though... is he a werewolf, or big foot?

Seriously though… is he a werewolf, or big foot?


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