DID RABIES FELL EDGAR ALLAN POE?
When literary figure EdgarAllanPoe collapsed in front of Ryan's Saloon in Baltimore on Oct. 3, 1849, everyone assumed the writer's boozy lifestyle had finally taken its toll.
Not so, says R. Michael Benitez of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Benitez' analysis of historical records shows that Poe probably died of rabies, a viral disease of the central nervous system.
Poe was taken to a hospital in Baltimore, where he suffered from delirium and tremors, both common in alcoholics who have not had a drink for 5 to 10 hours. After 3 days, he recovered briefly, then lapsed into delirium and confusion. The writer remained in this state until his death on Oct. 7, 1849.
The relapsing nature of Poe's illness doesn't match the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, Benitez says. Furthermore, historical evidence suggests that Poe had abstained from alcohol for the 6 months prior to his collapse. He refused an alcoholic drink in the hospital.
The symptoms of Poe's illness mirror those of a rabies infection, Benitez notes in the September Maryland Medical Journal. Even more telling, Poe had great difficulty drinking water during his hospital stay. Rabies produces involuntary spasms of the throat that make swallowing difficult.
Poe was a well-known animal lover and was especially fond of cats, which can transmit the rabies virus. There was no record of an animal bite preceding Poe's ailment, but the illness can take more than a year to surface, Benitez says.
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