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The Science of Lycanthropy

Werewolf Virology

By Hugo Pecos & Robert Lomax

Compared to vampires and zombies, werewolves are poorly understood. They live an isolated existence and have such refined senses that observing them in the wild is usually impossible. Watching them in captivity is also futile, as every werewolf ever captured for research purposes has died within one week of capture. Much of what we know about their biology comes from post-mortem examination of werewolf tissue and anatomy. Unfortunately, werewolf research ground to a halt after the FVZA was disbanded in 1975, so the current knowledge comes from a time when genetic research was less advanced.


The Virus

The lupine parvovirus
magnified 225,000 times
Wolves are natural hosts for the lupine parvovirus (LPV), the virus responsible for lycanthropy. Unlike the vampire and zombie viruses, LPV belongs to the Parvoviridae family, which includes the smallest known viruses in existence. Officially discovered during the 1960s, Parvoviridae have a genome consisting of single-stranded DNA and a non-enveloped icosahedral capsid. Unlike Mononegavirales, they don't uncoat until after entering a nucleus, and they tend to burst infected cells rather than bud from them. They're also highly resistant to environmental trauma, including digestive enzymes, making it much easier to spread via contaminated food and water sources.

LPV's main carrier, the timber wolf
What distinguishes LPV from other parvoviruses, however, is that it uses the budding method of reproduction and its capsid is much larger in size—though still smaller than the vampire and zombie viruses. Wolves transmit the virus to humans through biting, which is why werewolf occurrences closely mirror wolf populations. Unsurprisingly, hunters and fur trappers have always been common victims. There is a growing fear that wolf recovery programs in the United States will result in an increase in werewolves, especially in suburban areas. One saving grace, however, is that LPV cannot infect or be carried in organisms other than canines and primates.

Like vampirism, LPV infects and transforms every living cell in the body that has a nucleus, rather than just infecting and destroying certain tissues. Since it's a DNA virus, unlike the RNA vampire and zombie viruses, no reverse transcription from RNA to DNA is necessary. Upon entering a cell, the viral DNA can immediately integrate itself into the host's chromosomes. Ironically, despite this simpler process, LPV is a much slower-acting virus than even vampirism.

Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine for LPV. Anyone bitten, or accidentally infected during lab research, is doomed to either transformation or death, with no known cases of natural immunity. There were efforts to create a vaccine before the FVZA was disbanded, but the methods used for the vampire and zombie vaccines fell quite short.


Origin & Evolution

The evolutionary lineage of the lupine parvovirus is even more obscure and confusing than HVV and HZV, since it belongs to a completely different family while bearing many similar characteristics. Whether it's a matter of common ancestry or convergent evolution is a matter of debate. LPV is probably more closely related to HPV, since they're both non-enveloped DNA viruses that alter cellular genomes. As with vampires and zombies, there were likely many flawed forms of werewolves roaming the world before natural selection narrowed them down into a single, perfected breed.

Sites of Neanderthal and werewolf fossils
As for a werewolf's lupine visage, it's surely no coincidence considering the virus' more canine host. Lateral gene transfer between wolves and humans is an undoubted possibility.

Lastly, while vampires and zombies came from Africa after plaguing our human ancestors, werewolves were believed to originate in the forest-heavy landmass of Eurasia—possibly after infecting and wiping out our Neanderthal cousins some 40,000 years ago—judging by the discovery of dozens of well-preserved fossils.


Stages of the Disease

A severe skin rash is one of the more prominent
symptoms of early LPV infection, and will persist
throughout most of the transformation.
The transformation of a human being into a werewolf shares some similarities with that of vampires and zombies: after infection, there is a period of high fever, chills and other flu-like symptoms, and the victim is likely to experience extreme thirst and itching as their metabolism and heart rate increase. These symptoms take about 24 hours to appear and last approximately 48 hours. Unlike people infected with vampirism or zombism, lycanthropy victims do not ever slip into a coma.

A person infected with LPV comes out of the fever in a highly dangerous state, displaying fierce aggression and bloodlust as their communication degrades into grunts, growls and hisses. The victim will make great efforts to flee the company of humans and complete their transformation in a more secluded area, such as a forest, sewer or an abandoned structure.

The physiological transformation into a werewolf begins approximately one week after infection, as the viral DNA essentially takes over the body's process of cellular differentiation—selectively altering certain parts of the human genome based on the final design of the organism. This causes a slow and agonizing reshaping of the victim's bones and soft tissues as the infected cells shift and divide according to their newly-modified genetic instructions.

As with vampirism and zombism, not every victim survives the transformation, as it puts a great deal of strain on the heart and body—especially for the very young, old and ill. The past discoveries of partially-transformed corpses confirm this statement, as well as provide valuable insight into a werewolf's intermediate stages of development.

Continue to Werewolf Biology
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