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Ask Dr. Pecos

Archives Part IX

Are there any specific, endemically-human proteins in mind that vampires need to survive? I ask because the matter of precisely why they absolutely need human blood seems rather vague.
— Jonathan Weygand, Birmingham, Alabama
The relationship between humans
and vampires is a bit like that between
a dialysis machine and a patient.

A: It's not so much specific proteins as much as the unique concoction of numerous substances that make up human blood. If it was as simple as a few proteins, those could easily be replicated and mixed with animal blood or some other substitute in lieu of a vampire's natural prey. The fact that the FVZA was shut down didn't help matters, either. Lots of valuable research was either cut short or taken over by less transparent organizations. For instance, even though it's almost 2020, we still don't have a (known) vaccine for lycanthropy.

Vampires feed on humans because they too are human to a degree. Think of humans as being living dialysis machines, absorbing all the different varieties of food we consume, digest, filter and add to our own blood for continued survival. Vampires, being incapable of eating most foods, are forced to prey on humans to take what they cannot make themselves. Non-human mammals metabolize food using similar mechanics, but their blood chemistry is just too different to offer long-term sustenance. Trying to correct that is about as likely as making all blood types safe for everyone.

— Robert Lomax, FVZA

What do vampires and zombies sound like?
— Dale, Dothan, Alabama

Vampires and zombies sound different from humans, and the differences become more pronounced over time.

The Black Book

Let’s start with zombies. Early-stage zombies sound somewhat similar to their human selves. They try to form words and sentences. and they can vary the pitch and volume of their voice. However, they are unable to speak clearly because of degradation in the language centers of their brains (imagine a drunk person—a very drunk person—trying to speak). They may growl, hiss and even shriek to express their emotions. As time passes, their vocal chords deteriorate and they begin to emit some truly horrible noises—nothing like the steady groan of movie zombies. Mid-stage zombies will wheeze and gurgle due to excess fluid in their lungs. Later, as that fluid dries up, zombies will emit a chilling, guttural sound we used to refer to as “the zombie rattle.”

A quick aside: I never once, in all my years of zombie hunting, heard a zombie say “brains!”

In contrast to zombies, vampires retain the ability to speak, although their voices change significantly as the years pass and their mucous membranes thin and they lose elasticity in their vocal chords. A male vampire will develop a higher, thinner-sounding voice, while a female vampire’s voice will deepen. Structural changes in the voice box also cause vampires to speak more quietly. When they try to shout, their voices crack. They prefer to hiss, expelling air through their clenched mouths.

On a side note, it is true, as many movies and books have suggested, that vampires have their own language. It is a variation of Latin known as Bursan that was thought to have originated in Burs, an area of present-day Romania. Not all vampires bothered to learn Bursan, but the more disciplined groups made it mandatory for any new members. The oldest surviving Bursan text was found in the remains of a Viking camp near present-day Wexford on the southeast coast of Ireland. It is known as the Black Book, not because it is black but because the Vikings were sometimes referred to by the Irish as the “dark invaders.” It is not known how the book came to be in the possession of the Vikings. The Black Book currently resides in Trinity College, Dublin.

Do vampires really cry tears of blood like the vampires in True Blood?
— Sheldon, Lawrence, Kansas

Vampire tears

The notion that vampires cry tears of blood has been around for awhile; long before True Blood.

Vampire eyes are different from those of humans in several key ways. They are adapted for night vision, with dilated pupils that allow in more light. This is why a vampire appears to have black eyes. Another difference is that vampires typically have red, inflamed sclera—the so-called "whites of their eyes." Because of this, people throughout history have come to believe that vampires have bleeding eyes.  But the blood is confined to the eyeball and does not flow out like tears. 

On a related note, some of you have asked me about this video of a young man in Tennessee who bleeds from his eyes and whether this indicates vampirism.

The blood coming from the young man appears to be originating from the tissues around his eyes. If he actually were a vampire, his pupils would be enlarged, the whites of his eyes would be red and—most notably—he would have sharp, pointed canines. In addition, he would be unable to tolerate sunlight. I sincerely hope his condition is diagnosed and cured, but fortunately, he is no vampire.

Dear Dr. Pecos, I am extremely worried about a zombie outbreak. Would I be better off in the country? In the event of a zombie outbreak, where are the safest areas to be?
— Vaanessa, Somerville, Massachusetts

First off, you shouldn't be too worried about a zombie outbreak. I would advise you to be prepared, but don't let anxiety overwhelm you.

There are several variables that affect the speed of a zombie outbreak, including:

Even with the risk of traffic jams, your best protection against a zombie outbreak is a gassed-up vehicle. Have an escape route in mind. Often times, side streets are better than gridlock spots like the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles or the Capital Beltway in Washington, D.C.

Keep a "bug out" bag (like the one pictured above right) on hand stocked with essential supplies like food, water, matches, etc. Your kit should contain enough provisions to keep you safe for up to two weeks. This means you'll have to have access to a water supply and a means with which to purify it. Keep a battery-operated radio for communication with the outside world. Be sure to update your bag to account for the change of seasons; i.e., more water in the heat of summer, more clothing/blankets in the dead of winter.

Watch the news for any unusual stories about people with viral infections, like flesh-eating bacteria or rabies. The media will often misreport zombie outbreaks in their early stages.

Take steps to be prepared, but don't let anxiety about a zombie outbreak put a cloud over your head. An outbreak is unlikely, and even if one was to occur, it would probably be over within a week or two.

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