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Not Your Typical HIV Article - Vampire Cults and HIV

Do Vampiric Rituals Put Cult Members at Risk

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Updated May 16, 2010

A few nights ago, I couldn't sleep. So I clicked on the TV and came across a Wesley Snipes classic, the movie Blade. For those of you who don't know, Blade is a 1998 film about a vampire slayer portrayed by actor Wesley Snipes. The first scene I caught involved a human who stumbled into a "vampire club" while being seduced by a sexy woman, who unbeknown to him, is a vampire. The scene culminates with the fire sprinkler system coming on. Instead of spraying water, it sprayed human blood everywhere. Being a good HIV nurse, the first question that came to mind was, "Is this 'blood shower' an HIV transmission risk?" The next morning, the scene stuck with me. I thought I had read somewhere about vampire cults and their blood rituals, but was certain it was just a "made for Hollywood" concept. Surprisingly, the more research I did on the subject of vampires and vampire cults the more concerned I became. While I still believe that scene was an exaggeration -- at least I hope it was -- there still seemed to be a story here. So I dug a little deeper.

How is HIV Spread from Person to Person?

Are Vampires For Real?

The movies portray vampires as the unfortunate undead that become vampires after being bitten on the neck by another vampire. They are pale, ashen immortals with a thirst for blood and a sexual aura that lures their next victim. But again, this is a Hollywood portrayal. Actually, those who consider themselves vampires are a subculture of people who are attracted to vampire lore.

The Vampire Lifestyle

Those who live the vampire lifestyle share some common features but there are variants as well. Most living the vampire lifestyle have an interest in vampire lore. Many believe they possess physiological and psychological vampire traits. Most of these focus on music, fashion, and bodily appearance. But a small number believe sunlight is harmful or even fatal. So they live their lives in darkness. However, a few who live the vampire lifestyle that believe they need to ingest living human blood to survive and thrive. This group commonly known as "Sanguinarians" claim they physically require blood from other living beings. While most groups discourage actually biting people for the blood they seek, ingesting human blood does occur. It is those people whom we want to explore. Does their ingestion of human blood put them at risk for HIV?

The Biology of HIV

Where Does the Blood Come From?

In this day and age of bloodborne illnesses and HIV, one has to wonder why on earth anyone would tempt fate and ingest human blood. But in vampire circles, a small group do. It's suggested that vampire members use a razor or needle to make small wounds, then suck the blood directly from these wounds with their mouth. In most groups, testing for blood borne illnesses is done on blood sources before drinking their blood. Most refuse to use animal blood, regarding the animal blood as "dead" and an ineffective source of the blood borne energy they seek.

Is the Ingestion of Blood an HIV Risk?

So the question remains: Is there a risk of HIV infection by ingesting infected blood. And the answer is not a simple yes or no. Blood has the highest concentration of HIV when compared to the other fluids known to transmit HIV (vaginal secretions, semen and breast milk). We know that breast milk especially can transmit HIV when ingested by a baby. It is so risky that experts recommend that infected mothers not breastfeed their babies if at all possible. In fact, in the United States there is really no reason for HIV positive women to breastfeed their newborns given the availability of clean water and commercial formula. But be careful not to assume that because breast milk can transmit HIV that ingesting blood can be as risky. The fact is that the oral transmission of HIV is rare, but can happen under certain circumstances. The fragile tissues of the inside of mouth and esophagus can be routes of entry for HIV, especially if a large quantity of blood is ingested and the viral load per milliliter of blood is high. Compared to oral sex, the infected fluid (semen or blood) is a small quantity, greatly reducing the risk of infection. So while the digestive properties of saliva does help reduce the rate of HIV via oral routes, it does happen. While rare, ingesting blood can be a risk to those who observe the practice.

Really - What Does This All Mean?

Well my point to all this is simple: Be safe all you vampires out there. Those of you who observe the vampire lifestyle and all you who feel you need to ingest blood to survive, know you are not doing so without risk. And for the rest of us who aren't vampires or anything like vampires, understand the risks of your choices. Making healthy choices is the key to staying safe and healthy. Those choices should include:

Sources:

Sheon, N.; "Can you get HIV from swallowing a small amount of blood of an infected person?"; HIV Intake; 9 Feb 2001.

Wortman, J.; "Reality Bites: Vampires vs. HIV"; POZ Magazine; Oct. 2007.

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