Owwooooooooh! Can getting bit pass along microbes that will make you a werewolf?
Updated: Feb 6
Gather round tiny microbes, we're back again to read another spooky segment of the macabre masterpiece of microbial monsters. Today, we are venturing off into the spooky forest of your darkest fears! We dive deep in the unknown, as we discuss werewolves, tumors and microbes...oh my!
Rabies lyssavirus - Werewolf
Stories of werewolves have been around since ancient times. Perhaps the oldest known Western prose featuring werewolves is in The Epic of Gilgamesh, but they have made a more profound appearance in both Greek and Nordic folklore.
Today, the most common depiction of werewolves are people who during a full moon morph into a ravenous wolf-human hybrid and are overcome with rage and blood lust. The transformation all starts after being bitten by a werewolf (and being lucky enough to have survived, if you can call that lucky?) There are many conditions that might have spawned these stories such as hypertrichosis (unusually long hair on the face and body), porphyra (sensitivity to light), or lycanthropy (believing you are an animal), but today we will discuss a microbial one, rabies.
What is Rabies?
Rabies is caused by an RNA virus. Just like a werewolf, if you are bitten by an infected animal you can get the disease. The RNA virus is called Lyssavirus and it is thought to have originated in Africa. While dogs, raccoons and squirrels are the most common creatures infected by rabies, any mammal is susceptible to the disease. In North America, the main vector of the disease is bats, but in other parts of the world, where rabies vaccines are not as widespread, dogs are the primary vector.
The virus itself resembles a bullet in shape with a spiky exterior of glycoproteins. In fact, the entire virus is made up of just 5 proteins. Once someone is bitten, the virus makes its way to the spine then, finally, to the brain by moving along nerve cells. While migrating to the, and once it reached the brain, the virus transforms the cells it infects, turning them into a viral making factories, replicating and assembling new viral components. Once completed, many viral copies are assembled and burst out of the host cell.
Once symptoms appear, the disease almost always results in death. The virus finds its niches within the central nervous system of its host, multiplying within neurons. Rabies symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, agitation, aggression, anxiety, confusion, excessive salivation, insomnia, and hyperactivity just to name a few. So it's easy to see the parallels between this disease and the werewolves of folklore.
Interestingly, victims also develop hydrophobia, or the fear of water. It becomes so difficult to swallow water and many decide just not to drink at all. Violent spasms occur in the throat of rabies victims when they drink water which is the root of this hydrophobia.
Treatment for Rabies
If caught quickly enough, rabies can be prevented with a vaccine. The vaccine needs to be given as soon as exposure is thought to happen. Additional doses are often given on days 3, 7 and 14 according to the CDC. Receiving the vaccine is horrible and painful but if not treated the disease will progress quite quickly, with deadly consequences.
Unlike becoming a werewolf, there are a few treatments that give rabies victims hope of returning back to their old self. The “Milwaukee Protocol” is in experimental treatment for rabies where the patient is sent into a chemically induced coma and given antiviral drugs. Unsurprisingly, this protocol was first used in the town for which it is named after, Milwaukee, by Rodney Willoughby Jr. However, “hope” may be a strong word. Many who are given the treatment still die, only a few have ever survived rabies.
And to close up this wild werewolf, rabies, bat segment we will tell one more story. That, of course, would be on Ozzy Osborne, who quite stupidly bit the head off a bat, while on stage, to entertain his people. Why a fan thought it was a good idea to bring a potentially rabid unconscious or dead bat to a public concert is beyond me. And so our “prince of darkness” was immediately escorted to get rabies shots as a preventative measure.
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