Going Viral – Where Have All the Funny Diseases Gone?

It’s World Rabies Day today, a disease which was once on the tip of everyone’s tongue, in all senses, but now feels rather like discussing the Black Death as a cause for everyone to immediately flee for the hills. The old television adverts of the 70s and 80s, along with their papery cousins, were quite clear on the matter – if you gave an animal with four legs or more a funny look, it would immediately bite you and leave you frothing at the mouth. Death was a certainty, and we had no-one to blame but ourselves. Worse, the idea of a tunnel being built connecting us to the rest of Europe was nothing less than the imaginings of a Fu Manchu-like evil genius, a conveyer belt for manky animals to go on holiday to Blighty.

“These characters are rabies virus, from a new coloring book about rabies” it says here

No-one seemed to question this. Mental images of every continental badger, stoat, weasel and bat queuing up at Calais to sink their ferocious teeth into our faces was exactly what was going to happen. After all, virtually everyone over there had rabies, right? Perhaps it was because rabies is so very fucking weird. It didn’t take David Cronenberg to tell us angry feral beasts transferring a complaint that feels like a Simpsons episode of symptoms was strange. From bite to pain; anxiety; insomnia; night (and day) terrors; hallucinations; profuse sweating; mania; hydrophobia; much frothing, coma and death.

…as opposed to “do smuggle death please”


Frothing at the mouth then. Unable to drink without it causing the victim excruciating pain, the saliva glands go into overdrive, making the doomed look like they have a Mr Matey beard. This particular symptom is associated with furious rabies. A strand of rabies actually called furious! In fact, it’s not just a fear of water it is associated with but also of drafts and slight gusts. Aerophobia, not to be confused with the fear of flying. What larks! It’s clearly not massive fun if you’ve got it but at the same time…there is the feeling a generation is missing out on the drama and hi-jinx.

This man has “very rabies”

Ebola was a damn good effort by modern bacteria and bad stuff to show that we’re not completely without illnesses which really make you stand back and nod respectfully. Anything that prompts projectile bleeding from the eyes has got a feisty attitude. Modern medicine has cured us of many ills…but the pangs of nostalgia are hard to resist. Here are some faves we’d love to have a short encore performance of (not near us, but the good bits filmed please):

  • St Vitus Dance. I can’t be bothered checking all the actual facts, something you’ll have to get used to. Sounds a million laughs, though apparently not so much if you’ve got it. Restless legs; a twitching tongue (a twitching tongue!); hand movements as if milking an imaginary cow. I swear, I have just read that. Marvellous.
  • Dropsy. Sounds relatively harmless. Often used in goalkeeper-related gags of times past – “That Joe Hart must have Dropsy”. Probably has.
  • German measles. Is this still a thing? Rather like the multi-coloured fevers, having different strains of disease was always a super way of showing off that you were closer to death that the other bloke. See also, the many and rich varieties of pox.
  • Scurvy. “Spongy gums” it says here. Yeah, you’ll want a lemon for those bleeding gums, good luck with that
  • Scabs. Just scabs. I haven’t had a scab for years. Much missed.
  • Gout. Like trying to give tramps a better image by referring to them as “the homeless”, mud sticks – you’re fat.
  • Impetigo. So many syllables in such a short word. Impressive.

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