Dispelling the Rumor: Porphyria, or The Vampire Disease.

Some historians, chemists, doctors, and scientists are constantly searching for an explanation for the creation of our human folklore, specifically the origin of vampires, werewolves, zombies, krakens, etc. Unfortunately, one of the by-products of this search is the mislabeling of modern diseases and conditions. Rather than producing a resulting explanation for why we are so fascinated with reanimated corpses and blood-drinking cannibals, we are pointing fingers at individuals currently plagued by severe illnesses and conditions similar to that of a vampire or werewolf.

Vampire Folklore
Traditional vampire folklore.

In 1964, On Porphyria and the Aetiology of Werwolves, an article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, pointed at porphyria, a group of rare blood disorders, as an explanation for werewolf origins. The article went widely unnoticed for twenty-one years, until biochemist David Dolphin created an extremely controversial paper about the origin of vampires, using some of the articles ideas and theses as evidence.

In his paper, David Dolphin claimed that some of the varieties of porphyria have very similar symptoms to that of an individual suffering from vampirism. Pointing out that intravenous haem helps treat this group of porphyria, David Dolphin suggested that vampires were merely porphyria sufferers who were consuming large amounts of blood to simulate this process. However, there is no medical evidence that individuals diagnosed with porphyria crave the taste of blood.

These same variants of porphyria also cause the individuals skin to become hyper-sensitive to light. If the individual is exposed to prolonged sunlight, their skin burns and itches, and the application of Calomine lotion does little to deter the itching and burning sensation. David Dolphin used this as further evidence that porphyria is the origin of our vampiric beliefs. Unfortunately, the original vampire folklore claims that vampires are more active at night, not that they are vulnerable to sunlight. Sunlight as a vulnerability for vampires did not develop until the 19th century.

Photosensitivity reaction in porphyria.

Dolphin also noted the other symptoms of porphyria as evidence of its vampiric ties: anemia, reddish-brown urine and teeth, excess body hair, and the mutilation of the nose, ears, eyelids, or fingers. Depending on the time period, only some of these symptoms match the appearance of a vampire, but none of them are concrete enough to support his claims. To put it simply, David Dolphins whole paper was based off inaccurate information, mixed folklore, and a general misunderstanding of porphyria. This did not stop the media from loving it up though.

After the release of Dolphins paper, the media exploded with talk about realistic vampires. Some individuals suffering from porphyria were said to have been shunned by their friends and family  forced exile, something that is almost unheard of in modern America. There are even rumors of a husband leaving his wife out of fear for being bitten and turned into a vampire.

Before you go rushing out and yelling about how vampires are walking among us, remember, David Dolphin had no idea what he was talking about. Vampires live in castles and drink fine wine duh everyone knows that.



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