LOS ANGELES, MAY 30- Werewolves and vampires, those dreaded beasts of folklore and superstition, may have been nothing more than people suffering from a rare class of genetic diseases, a scientist suggested here today.
Dr. David H. Dolphin, a biochemist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, suggested that the effects of porphyria diseases, which involve a malfunctioning in the body’s manufacture of crucial chemicals, could have left victims grotesquely disfigured, turned them into creatures of the night and caused them to suck the blood of their brothers and sisters.
Victims of the diseases, Dr Dolphin suggested in a talk at the American association for the advancement of Science, could have inspired the mythology of werewolves, which were humans who changed into wolves, and vampires, which were corpses that left their graves at night to suck the blood of humans.
Aversion to sunlight
The effects of these diseases, if left untreated, can be devastating, he said. The malfunction in the body’s chemistry can cause the skin to be extraordinarily sensitive to sunlight, with a result that exposure to even mild sunlight can disfigure the skin, cause the nose and fingers to fall off, and make the lips and gums so taught that the teeth, although no larger than ordinary, look like they are jutting out in a menacing, animal-like manner.
The chief defense against the painful effects of the sun, Dr. Dolphin suggested, would be to venture forth only at night, as werewolves and vampires were said to do. Some victims of the diseases also become very hairy, he said, conceivably one of nature’s efforts to protect the skin from the sun.
Dr. Dolphin said there is still no cure for the diseases, which strike perhaps one in every 200,000 people, but they can be treated so that their devastating consequences are avoided.
The scientist acknowledged that the werewolves element of this theory was not new, since it had been put forth by another scientist more than two decades ago. But he contended that his vampire idea broke new ground.
Treatment derived from blood.
He noted that a major treatment today for some porphyria in an injection of a blood product, heme. Since that treatment did not exist in the Middle Ages, when the myths originated, Dr. Dolphin said, the victims might have instinctively sought heme by biting human victims and drinking a alarge amount of their blood, as was supposedly the custom of vampires.
However, Dr. Dolphin said he did not have evidence that the body could get heme by drinking blood, and he could not explain why the porphyria victims would not have drunk the blood of animals rather than human blood.
He did have an explanation for why the victims of a vampire’s bite were supposedly turned into vampires themselves. He suggested that brothers and sisters could have shared the defective gene that causes the diseases, but only one of them might have experienced symptoms of the diseases. If that victim then bit a sibling to get blood, the shock of the experience might have triggered an attack of the disease in the bitten sibling, thus producing another vampire.
Explanation for fear of garlic
Dr. Dolphin also offered an explanation of why vampires, or porphyria victims, might as well have been afraid of garlic, in accord with mythology. Garlic, he said, contains a chemical that exacerbates the symptoms of porphyria.
He said his vampire theory had never before been presented to a scientific meeting but acknowledged that he had confided the gist of it to some tens of millions of people watching a morning television show last Halloween. No one at this gathering of scientists immediately stepped forward to endorse his theories.
(credits: http://wwwRARE .nytimes.com/1985/05/31/us/rare-disease-proposed-as-cause-for-vampires.html)