Skip to main content

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



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.


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


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.


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.


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

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    Hallab, M.Y., Vampire god: the allure of the undead in western culture. 2009

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Gómez-Alonso, J., Rabies: a possible explanation for the vampire legend. 1998

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Maas RP, Voets PJ (2014) The vampire in medical perspective: myth or malady? Qjm 107(11):945–946

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Mlacker S, Shah VV, Alsaidan M, Nouri K (2015) Victorian vampires validated--the similarities between a legendary creature and a dermatologic pathology. JAMA Dermatol 151(11):1225

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Maranda EL, Heifetz R, Estes WA, Cortizo J, Shareef S, Jimenez JJ (2016) Porphyria and vampirism-a myth, Sensationalized. JAMA Dermatol 152(9):975

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Heick A (1992) Prince Dracula, rabies, and the vampire legend. Ann Intern Med 117(2):172–173

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Spiegel B, Lacy B (2018) Putting patients first. Am J Gastroenterol 113(1):1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Iacobucci G (2018) Health experts urge UK and EU to “put patients first” in Brexit talks. BMJ 360

  9. 9.

    Piller G (2001) Leukaemia - a brief historical review from ancient times to 1950. Br J Haematol 112(2):282–292

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Bernth, O and E Hagens Medicinsk kompendium Vol. 3th 1940, Copenhagen Store nordiske videnskabsboghandel

  11. 11.

    Hoffbrand, V et al. 2016 Postgraduate haematology Vol. 7th. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

  12. 12.

    Schönlein, JL 1839 Zur Pathogenie der Impetigines. Auszug aus einer brieflichen Mitteilung an den Herausgeber. Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und wissenschaftliche Medicin

  13. 13.

    Bretonneau, P 1826 Des inflammations spéciales du tissu muqueux, et en particulier de la diphtérite, ou inflammation pelliculaire, connue sous le nom de croup, d'angine maligne, d'angine gangréneuse, etc.

  14. 14.

    Barsell A, Norton SA (2015) Pellagra's three Ds: dermatology, death, and Dracula. JAMA Dermatol 151(9):951

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Poskitt EM (2003) Early history of iron deficiency. Br J Haematol 122(4):554–562

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Blombery P, Scully M (2014) Management of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura: current perspectives. J Blood Med 5:15–23

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Stasi R, Newland AC (2011) ITP: a historical perspective. Br J Haematol 153(4):437–450

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Stiles A (2013) Bram Stoker's brother, the brain surgeon. Prog Brain Res 205:197–218

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dennis Lund Hansen.

Ethics declarations

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.

Informed consent

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

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation


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