A thirst for blood
In times when people were wary of vampires, corpses were occasionally dug up to check they were still dead. People’s fears were exacerbated when bodies were found to have blood oozing from the nose and mouth. In reality, what looked like blood was actually ‘purge fluid’, the result of the natural decay process as the internal organs start to break down. Symptoms of disease also contributed to the blood-sucking myth. Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that primarily affects the lungs and causes sufferers to cough up blood. Before the illness was understood people blamed these mysterious deaths on supernatural forces. The New England ‘vampire panic’ in the early 1800s, for example, was a TB outbreak that affected entire families. The deaths were blamed on the first victim of the family somehow feeding off their surviving relatives from beyond the grave. When they exhumed bodies to try and prevent what they assumed was vampiric activity, their worries were (mistakenly) ‘confirmed’ by the fact that TB victims would often be found with their mouths full of blood.
A symptom of TB is coughing up blood, which could have contributed to vampires’ bloodthirsty reputation
Right: German physician Robert Koch won the 1905 Nobel Prize for discovering that TB was caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria (pictured)