Malignant but not maleficent: acute leukaemia as a possible explanation of disease and death in vampire victims

Abstract

Background

A considerable amount of research has been put into the explanation of the origin of the vampire myth by focussing on possible symptoms of the vampire; however, very little attention has been given to the victims.

Aims

To elucidate whether the myth of vampire victims follows the course of disease of acute leukaemia.

Method

We studied three classical vampire novels published 1819–1897, focusing on 8 victims and their symptoms. The novels were chosen based on their iconic status in classic vampire literature, which defined the vampire genre and the symptoms of the victims for many years. The symptoms and course of disease following vampire attacks described in these novels were then compared with symptoms commonly seen in untreated acute leukaemia and other contemporary disorders.

Results

The earliest novel (1819) did not provide a sufficient description of any symptoms in detail; however, the later novels (1872 and 1897) both provided elaborate portrayals of symptoms and course of the disease. The patients studied were all factitious—explaining the variation in symptoms; however, they share common features. One case, a young woman named Lucy Westenra, described by Bram Stoker, 1897, mirrors a textbook example of an acute leukaemia patient—despite being described before the time of common acknowledgment of the diagnosis.

Conclusion

Victims in the gothic vampire novels from the nineteenth century could very likely be inspired by real-life acute leukaemia patients.

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Correspondence to Dennis Lund Hansen.

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Conflict of interest

CWM and DLH love vampire tales. CWH and HF are consultant haematologists and DLH haematologist in training, which may have biased the interpretation of symptoms. Beyond this, ST declares that she has no conflict of interest. CWM declares that he has no conflict of interest. HF declares that he has no conflict of interest. DLH declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors. Given the retrospective nature of the study, formal consent is not required.

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Informed consent was not obtained, as all persons described are factitious, literary entities.

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Tranekær, S., Marcher, C.W., Frederiksen, H. et al. Malignant but not maleficent: acute leukaemia as a possible explanation of disease and death in vampire victims. Ir J Med Sci 189, 627–631 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11845-019-02124-2

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Keywords

  • Acute Leukaemia
  • Blood disease
  • Dracula
  • Legendary creatures
  • Medicine in literature
  • Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura/TTP