Are the railings round the tomb to prevent body-snatchers and medical students getting in?
Or are they perhaps to prevent something Undead getting out?
The real blood-sucking (or blood-lapping) vampire bats, are found in the Americas. The common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) feeds solely on blood, a trait known as ‘haematophagy’. (Compare this with Renfield’s so-called ‘zoophagy’.) These bats are quite small, even cute-looking, but rabies is still a possibility.
For a dental note: it is the two sharp front teeth which open up the blood vessel, then the long tongue takes over. Note that in the ‘Dracula’ novel and most movies it is the canine teeth that cause the damage but Count Orlok in ‘Nosferatu’ has teeth like this, as do rats.
The association of large bats with vampires stemmed from Linnaeus’ original namings, and so, in ‘Dracula’, Quincey, the American, remarks:
‘I have not seen anything pulled down so quick since I was on the Pampas and had a mare that I was fond of go to grass all in a night. One of those big bats that they call vampires had got at her in the night, and what with his gorge and the vein left open, there wasn’t enough blood in her to let her stand up, and I had to put a bullet through her as she lay.’
The spectral bat (Vampyrum spectrum) is a large, carnivorous leaf-nosed bat found in Mexico, Central America and South America. It has a robust skull and teeth, with which it delivers a powerful bite to kill its prey, likely to be birds, rodents and insects.
In Trinidad, these bats are sometimes thought to be ghosts.
Rabies can be caused by a bite from a British bat, the Daubenton. It is caused by the European Bat Lyssavirus – EBLV, which was first found in a bat in Florida in 1953. While in the UK there has only been one case of human rabies acquired from a native bat, in 2002, this was fatal. An infected bat was found as recently as October 2019.
In humans symptoms of the disease include:
Post-exposure treatment (PET) using rabies vaccine with or without human rabies immunoglobulin (HRIG) is highly effective in preventing disease if given correctly and promptly after exposure. For advice see: www.gov.uk/government/publications/rabies
While Count Dracula seems to have had mild hydrophobia, his swallowing seems to have remained intact.
In ‘Dracula’ Lucy is back home in Hampstead, but not safe from nocturnal assault despite the garlic flowers Professor Van Helsing specially procured for her protection:
I went to the window and looked out, but could see nothing, except a big bat, which had evidently been buffeting its wings against the window.
But Lucy’s mother removed the garlic flower wreath from her daughter’s neck (I expect it was rather smelly).
The flowers which had been round her neck we found upon her mother’s bosom, and her throat was bare, showing the two little wounds which we had noticed before, but looking horribly white and mangled.
Neither survived this attack. But would the garlic have done the job anyway? Some bats are actually attracted to flowers smelling of sulphur. Menthol, mothballs and mint are recommended instead.
Coloured engraving by Josiah Wood Whymper (1813 -1903) from the Wellcome Collection. The accompanying text comments:
Sleeping during the day in the most retired places, in the hollow of trees, or hanging by its claws from the bark, or concealing itself in ruined buildings, or in the roofs of ancient churches, it avoids the glare of daylight; but when the shades of evening come on, and hunger tempts the timid animal from its lurking-place, it is brisk and lively enough.
In ‘Dracula’, Mina noted:
Between me and the moonlight flitted a great bat, coming and going in great whirling circles. Once or twice it came quite close, but was, I suppose, frightened at seeing me, and flitted away across the harbour towards the abbey.
We are in Whitby here, but it is not until Lucy is back home in Hampstead that the bites in her neck are noticed by Professor Van Helsing. He starts to suspect a diagnosis of Vampirism.
Professor Sir Simon Wessely has kindly said :
‘If, as Dr Subotsky tells, us it takes being bitten by a bat to produce a book of this depth, detailed, but also fun, then I recommend being bitten by a bat to all aspiring authors.’
I wouldn’t go that far – but the tale is true. I was a young teenager staying in the tower of a European chateau, when in through the window at dusk there flew…
For more details, go to Cambridge University Press
and then your favourite book source.
At last, the moment we have all been waiting for – the publication of my book ‘Dracula for Doctors’, cleverly timed by Cambridge University Press for 31st October, Halloween. Many thanks to all my patient friends, colleagues and family members.
And more secrets will no doubt be unearthed by delving further into libraries of old books, especially those of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Wellcome and the London Library, where Bram Stoker did some of his own research.