What disease did the legend of zombies and vampires originate from?

The legend of two bloodthirsty monsters – often appearing in Hollywood horror movies – stems from a dangerous disease in real life. It is rabies.

Zombies and vampires have a common feature of eating or drinking human blood, and just one bite of them is enough to turn the victim into a new zombie and vampire. According to The Verge, scientists say the legend of these two monsters stems from a scary disease in real life. It is rabies.

The rabies virus is spread through a bite or scratch from an infected animal, usually a dog or raccoon. From the bite, the rabies virus enters the human brain, causing terrible consequences.

Symptoms of rabies include headache, fever, anxiety, muscle aches, hallucinations, convulsions, and coma. Victims may even go insane. After just a few days, nearly 100% of people with rabies died.

What disease did the legend of zombies and vampires originate from?
The zombie army attacked the city of Jerusalem in the movie World War Z. (Photo: Paramount).

Today, medicine has developed an effective vaccine against rabies. Many people who have frequent direct contact with animals can be vaccinated against the disease. However, in many parts of the world, vaccine shortages still occur.

According to statistics of the World Health Organization (WHO), every year tens of thousands of people still die from rabies, mainly in Asia and Africa. 99% of infections are caused by dog bites. And up to 40% of people bitten by rabies are children under 15 years old.

Rabies has existed for thousands of years. This dreaded disease is mentioned in ancient Greek texts and in documents written in Sumerian (a common language in southern Mesopotamia since the 4th millennium BC).

In Homer’s Iliad, the Trojan warrior Hector uses the word “lyssa” to describe frenzied fury. This is the word used for rabies in ancient Greek medical texts.

Expert Bill Wasik – author of Rabid – said ancient people believed that rabies victims were possessed by animal spirits. And that is the origin of the legends of vampires, zombies and werewolves.

Some medical studies show that the symptoms of rabies are very similar to those described for vampires and zombies. For example, a study published in the journal Neurology in 1998 showed that vampires hunt at night, often attacking women, while the rabies virus causes the victim to lose sleep and become aggressive.

What disease did the legend of zombies and vampires originate from?
Female vampire played by Kate Beckingsale in Underworld. (Photo: Screen Gems).

Vampires are described as being able to transform into dogs or bats. These are two animals that are capable of spreading the rabies virus. A study by experts from the University of California (USA) in 2013 showed that zombies and rabies victims have many similarities.

Zombies are extremely aggressive, bloodthirsty and often drool. Sometimes they stagger, like a rabies victim having a convulsion.

According to Wasik, there is a clear “cultural relationship” between rabies and legendary monsters such as zombies, vampires and werewolves. In the past, humans did not fully understand how the rabies virus spread. Thus, rabies infections became the source of these night creatures.

According to research published in Neurology, a specific example was in the 1720s, when a rabies pandemic raged in Eastern Europe. It is also an area where vampire legends are extremely popular.