News flash for all you Twilight fans out there: It turns out Stephanie Meyer may have been on to something with her modernized idea of blood-suckers. I'm not saying the fantastical vampires you read about and watch on the big screen once walked the earth (Dracula and Edward Cullen are, sadly, fictional). However, it's not completely ridiculous to question whether vampires are real, at least as far as science is concerned.
Just in time for Halloween, researchers and collaborators of the Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center recently linked a genetic mutation to vampire folklore, and it turns out the undead's traditional costume isn't too far off from this kind of patient's day-to-day aesthetic.
There are eight blood disorders (that science knows about, anyway) that affect production of that red liquid that pumps and circulates through your body to give you life. The most common disorder is called erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP), which, from my understanding, is essentially an advanced form of anemia that affects the way a person looks and their relationship with the sun. According to Barry Paw MD, PhD and his team of researchers, a never-before-seen genetic mutation has been discovered that not only triggers the disorder, but may link to the origin of vampire stories. Here are a few facts to know about how the two intertwine.
1. EPP Makes A Person's Skin Hypersensitive To The Sun
Granted, I'm as pale as they come, but I don't necessarily have to hide from sunlight for the sake of my health. Patients diagnosed with EPP, however, are super sensitive to UV rays, and too much exposure can cause serious damage beyond the average burn.
Researcher Barry Paw, MD, PhD, told EurekAlert! Science News,
People with EPP are chronically anemic, which makes them feel very tired and look very pale with increased photosensitivity because they can't come out in the daylight. Even on a cloudy day, there's enough ultraviolet light to cause blistering and disfigurement of the exposed body parts, ears, and nose.
It's no wonder those with EPP prefer indoor activities. If just the simple act of coming in contact with sun beams were enough to cause me physical harm, I'd probably stay inside all day, too.
2. People With EPP Don't Want To Suck Your Blood, But They Will Take Donations
These real-life "vampires" require transfusions in order to keep their protein levels in the blood stable.
Blood disorders occur when the body is unable to produce a sufficient amount of heme which, according to EurekAlert! Science News, is an oxygen-transporting protein that mixes with iron and gives blood that crimson red color.
So while the legendary monster fed on animal blood and humans if they were lucky, EPP patients prefer standard blood transfusions to stabilize their heme levels and ease symptoms.
3. Physical Indications Of EPP Include A Lot More Than Just Pale Skin
Contrary to what scary stories and Halloween costume mouth pieces suggest, those who inspired vampire tales do not have protruding fangs, knife-sharp fingernails, or sweeping dark bags under their eyes (unless out of exhaustion like the rest of us).
The official British Skin Foundation reports that, despite skin discomfort, there may be little to no visible signs of the disorder:
Sometimes there can be swelling of the skin, initially like a nettle rash. With time, some people develop thickening of the skin over their knuckles, and small scars on sun-exposed skin such as that on the cheeks, nose, and backs of the hands. However, these skin changes show wide variation between different individuals.
4. Other Than EPP, Rabies Is Another Medical Condition That Has Been Compared To Vampire Folklore
In 1998, Spanish neurologist Juan Gomez-Alonso linked vampires to people with rabies. The comparison struck while watching a Dracula film, as Gomez-Alonso noticed that both vampires and people who have been bit by animals with the deadly virus experience feelings of agitation and violence.
Further research led to even more striking similarities, like the fact that people with rabies experience muscle spasms as a result of bright light, water, mirrors, and strong smells (garlic, anyone?), and not to mention that vampire stories started circulating Europe during an extreme rabies outbreak. Coincidence? Maybe, but maybe not.
As interesting as it is to learn that your favorite Halloween myth was inspired by these real-life medical conditions, disorders like EPP are serious, and should always be treated by the professionals. Just be sure you are sensitive to those who may be affected by these health issues, and always make it a point to distinguish fact from fiction.