A bite to be truly terrified of.

What if the bite from a wild animal could bring on hallucinations, paranoia and fear of water? Would your first thought be that you had been taken over by a raft of microscopic organisms?

Rabies is a disease caused by the rabies virus. It is passed on from domestic or wild animals to humans through saliva, usually from bites or scratches. [ref] http://conditions.health.qld.gov.au/HealthCondition/condition/14/217/118/rabies [/ref] In Mesopotamia, 4000 years ago, it was known that there was a link between the bite of a rabid dog and a person’s death [ref] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6082082/ [/ref] There was also a belief in Mesopotamia that dogs became more rabid when a lunar eclipse occurred at the year’s end.

This dog is not rabid but has a powerful bite

Though the link was understood for thousands of years, it took until the nineteenth century for a vaccine to be developed. Even so, it was only effective before full symptoms have occurred. [ref] https://jnnp.bmj.com/content/73/1/82 [/ref] Once the virus reaches a person’s brain it is inevitably fatal, even to this day. [ref] https://www.travelvax.com.au/latest-news/rabies-there-are-no-short-cuts [/ref]

It is not hard to see how this real life disease could feed people’s fears and make them think of the supernatural. The case of being bitten and then turning into a twisted, distorted visage of something half human, half animal is certainly enough to inspire nightmares. The links between the bite of a dog and a person’s transformation is certainly present in the mythology of werewolves. But Jessica Wang, in her book, Mad Dogs and Other New Yorkers, Rabies, Medicine, and Society in an American Metropolis, 1840-1920 also suggests that the rabies had a role in shaping vampire mythology.

She suggests even a glimpse in a mirror, might have set off a violent reaction in a rabies sufferer, due to their extreme over sensitivity to stimuli. Also in certain Eastern stories of vampires, the vampires turned themselves not into bats, but wolves or dogs. [ref] http://theconversation.com/rabies-horrifying-symptoms-inspired-folktales-of-humans-turned-into-werewolves-vampires-and-other-monsters-125672 [/ref]

In fact, the expression, ‘hair of the dog’ stems from a medieval attempt at curing rabies. These days the term is most commonly used as a dubious hangover cure, and means in this context to have a glass of the same drink the next morning that the person drank the night before.

The full phrase though is, ‘hair of the dog that bit you’ and refers to the cure for rabies would be to take one of the hairs of the same dog that bit you, and place it in the wound. [ref] https://metro.co.uk/2017/10/19/why-is-it-called-hair-of-the-dog-and-does-the-hangover-cure-work-7012575/ [/ref]. However, far better is to seek out medical attention if one happens to be bitten by a strange dog.

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