BACKGROUND: A considerable amount of research has been put into the explanation of the origin of the vampire myth by focussing on possible symptoms of the vampire; however, very little attention has been given to the victims.
AIMS: To elucidate whether the myth of vampire victims follows the course of disease of acute leukaemia.
METHOD: We studied three classical vampire novels published 1819-1897, focusing on 8 victims and their symptoms. The novels were chosen based on their iconic status in classic vampire literature, which defined the vampire genre and the symptoms of the victims for many years. The symptoms and course of disease following vampire attacks described in these novels were then compared with symptoms commonly seen in untreated acute leukaemia and other contemporary disorders.
RESULTS: The earliest novel (1819) did not provide a sufficient description of any symptoms in detail; however, the later novels (1872 and 1897) both provided elaborate portrayals of symptoms and course of the disease. The patients studied were all factitious-explaining the variation in symptoms; however, they share common features. One case, a young woman named Lucy Westenra, described by Bram Stoker, 1897, mirrors a textbook example of an acute leukaemia patient-despite being described before the time of common acknowledgment of the diagnosis.
CONCLUSION: Victims in the gothic vampire novels from the nineteenth century could very likely be inspired by real-life acute leukaemia patients.