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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Deyett

Vampires Of New England: The Undead Panic Of Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Updated: Nov 12, 2022

Mycobacterium tuberculosis as a vampire going after their next victim with Becky commenting on the scene

Welcome back to criminology everyone! Today, we will be covering another wonderful topic, we are talking about the White Plague, a disease that has been afflicting the giants for possibly 3 million years! Plus it was the created vampires in New England! Making Mycobacterium tuberculosis our vampire edition of monstrous microbes.

Student: Great, another uplifting topic.

I'm glad you agree.

Overview of Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Now, you’ve probably heard of tuberculosis before, but what exactly is it? It's an infection that usually affects the lungs and is caused mainly by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis and, occasionally, Mycobacterium bovis, which mostly infects cows. Tuberculosis has gone by many names: The Hebrew language called it schachepheth or 'wasting disease', the Romans called it tabes (Latin for emaciation), and in the 1800’s it was referred to as consumption, the disease, or the “Captain of all these men of death. My personal favorite name is, of course, the White Plague in the 1700s due to the pale skin of its victims, if only I had such a cool alias.

Simon: You never tried to hide under one.

That's because no one could come up with a good one! Bacteria slayer is not cool.

Student: Wait, what?

Never mind that. Now, this bacterium is rod-shaped and is a little unique, because it is neither gram-positive nor gram-negative due to its cell wall. Instead, M. tuberculosis is referred to as an acid-fast bacteria based on its permeability to some dyes which the giants use to see us under the microscope. They need a special dye for the lipids in their cell wall: mycolic acid, core factor, and Wax-D. These acids work together to protect the bacteria from lysosomes and oxygen radicals, complement deposition, acidic and basic compounds, and many types of antibiotics, as well as inhibiting some immune cell functions like movement.

Once in the lungs, the bacteria establish residence and can remain dormant for years; this is known as latent TB. The body tries to fight it off, encapsulating the bacteria with immune cells, but maybe unsuccessful in clearing the infection. Since the bacteria are surrounded, they cannot spread to the other parts of the body or other giants and they do not become sick; in fact, they may go their entire life without becoming sick and M. tuberculosis will remain in a dormant state.

However, the bacteria may become active and start multiplying, generally when the giant's immune system becomes compromised, causing symptoms such as coughing, chest pain, weight loss, fatigue, chills, night sweats, etc.

This can occur weeks to years after M. tuberculosis has entered the giant’s lungs and can now spread to others. Those that are particularly susceptible to the bacteria are the giants that are immunocompromised. One of these groups, in particular, are giants that have an HIV infection; in fact, a TB infection is one of the leading causes of death for those with an HIV infection. The bacteria can even move to different parts of the body such as the brain or kidneys, known as disseminated TB. Without treatment, the active disease is almost always fatal. The giants, though, have discovered antibiotics that treat it, a combination of 3-4 antibiotics. Because Mycobacterium tuberculosis is becoming more antibiotic-resistant, the treatment is harsher with stronger antibiotics that can negatively affect the giants. Those that have a non-resistant infection generally have to take them for 6-9 months of antibiotics, while those that have resistant TB can take up to 30 months!

Student: That's terrible, all their other good microbes must have died!

Yes all those potential *mutters* victims.

Simon: Becky!

What? I didn’t say anything!

There is a vaccine that the giants created, called the Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine. It was first developed by Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin in the early 20th century and took almost twenty years to make. It is actually made with the related bacterium Mycobacterium bovis that was grown on a media that was subcultured every 3 weeks. After repeating the process 230 times, the bacteria was attenuated, or less virulent, so that it could provide immunity to M. tuberculosis without causing disease. It is given to children and infants in countries where TB is common. It is not infallible, though, as the giants can still develop latent TB and reactivation.

The Romantic History Of Tuberculosis

But this bacteria is nothing new to humanity, it has been around a long time and was first mentioned on paper in India 3000 years ago and has been found in human skeletons over 9000 years old... Between the 1600s and the 1800s a quarter of all deaths were caused by TB, not exactly Black Plague's numbers, but still respectable numbers, one I could only strive to reach.

Simon: Watch it. We don't talkg about the giants that way.
I Wasn't talking about wiping out a quarter of the giants...

The industrial revolution did not help with this airborne disease either: cities were overcrowded and, if you remember from our cholera discussion, general sanitation was extremely poor. However, this disease does not discriminate between the rich or the poor, it infects whoever is closest regardless of social class. Paradoxically, tuberculosis became a symbol of sexual attractiveness.

Simon: These are still kids here, so keep it PG.

Ugh, so…….. boring.

For some reason, the giants loved the complexion that consumption gave people, particularly the pale skin, red cheeks, and being thin,

no wonder it was called the White Plague. This was so sought after that women powdered their faces to look pale and, later on, corsets to look thin as well as being romanticized in art, poetry, and the stage.

White Plague Causes Vampires Of New England

Seeing ghostly giants around town was not always seen as something romantic, in fact, for some, it spread illogical fears. During the 1800s it was even thought by some that the disease was creating vampires of New England. More specifically, they thought that a relative that died of consumption had come back to life and was feeding off the remaining family members. This fear is bolstered by the fact that the microbe spread to other family members due to being in close proximity.

The "vampires of New England," resulted in the exhumation of the graves of these so-called vampires, which started in the 1790s, where heads had been chopped off and the hearts were often removed to be burned.

It was thought that if the bodies had blood in them that this was the sign of vampirism. Now, I am not sure how or why this started, but seeing how the victims were pale I can kind of understand the thought that something was draining the blood from them, but then again where were the bite marks?

There are several stories of vampires of New England that spread like wildfire and caught the imagination of so many towns. In 1892, the townspeople of Exeter, RI dug up the bodies of Mary Brown and daughters Mary Olive and Mercy Lena. The husband, George Brown, was desperate as his last-child, Edwin, had become ill with the disease. So, despite the doctors claiming that it was not due to the vampires of New England, the citizens dug up the graves and found blood in Mercy who had been dead for several months. It should be noted that the weather had been cold, which would have slowed down the decomposition, and yet her heart was removed and burned. For whatever reason, they fed the ashes to Edwin, but he still passed away 2 months later.

When we say vampires of New England we really mean it, accounts came from all over the area including Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, resulting in at least 12 vampire panics. They had a fever, and the only prescription was to burn more so-called "vampires." Eventually, the bacterial discovery stopped the speculation in the supernatural and at the and, even though so many "vampires" were taken care of, no one was cured of their affliction.

Science Stops The Dark Romance Of Consumption

During this time, it was thought that it was a hereditary disease, but in 1882, Robert Koch was able to isolate and prove that this disease was caused by bacteria.

Two years later, he also released another paper on Tuberculosis where he developed Koch’s postulates, which is still integral to studying and discovering the cause of infections in the giants, using this microbe. He even developed a treatment using an extract from TB called tuberculin, which was proven ineffective. It was not a total loss to the giants, however, as Dr. Florence Seibert was able to purify the tuberculin and make it into a skin test to determine if the giants have been exposed to TB which is still in use today. In short, it is a protein derived from Mycobacterium tuberculosis; if a giant had been infected by the bacteria, its immune system would recognize the protein and start reacting to it, causing swelling. If the giant has never been exposed to Mycobacterium tuberculosis, then nothing will happen at the site.

Once it was discovered, the romanticism and the vampires of New England began to fade away and was replaced by the idea that it was a public threat. Eventually, antibiotics were discovered to treat it, but it turned out that a cocktail of different antibiotics was needed as Mycobacterium tuberculosis developed resistance quickly to any single one.

There are cases and areas where TB is highly resistant or completely resistant to antibiotics. This is due to several factors including improper dosing or the giants stopping the medication because they felt better before finishing the course or it made them feel worse. As this resistance spreads, the need for new antibiotics arises for the giants, a theme that seems to become more common these days. Some countries, like the United States, have programs where medical personnel watch the person take the medication, ensuring the proper, required treatment.

Well, that is all today everyone, no homework tonight, but read up on the most wanted, you may be surprised who we will cover next.

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