The Red Death
Transmission & Vectors
The Red Death is an incredibly rare, but exceedingly horrid, disease native to the Eastern continents. An incredibly small and uncommon, but very resistant worm known colloquially as the "Parasitic Wine Worm" will sometimes make its way out of the dirt and into fruit. In most cases, the worm has been found in grapes, likely due to its habitat coinciding with the best places for vineyards. Amazingly, the worm is able to survive the fermentation process by going into a state of dormancy, and when consumed, it becomes active one more and establishes itself as a parasite within the host's bloodstream. Due to the unique way in which the worm enters a host, this rare disease was almost exclusive to the ruling class for centuries, giving rise to the nickname of the "Red Noble Disease". It can be contracted by practically any warm-blooded species, including all of the Eastern Races, although it manifests differently in different races.
Once the worm has entered the body, it will almost immediately begin to mess with its host. The small worm will begin to feed on the blood of its host, while also secreting hormones. While this may not seem like a lot, any amount of hormonal change can have drastic effects on the body. The hormones secreted by the worm begin to affect the muscles first. Within almost a day of consuming the worm, the host will notice that they are notably stronger. Their gums will recede and begin to bleed, and the canine teeth will lose their enamel caps and begin to grow. Their skin or scales will also begin to grow sickly pale in color, but as their condition progresses, it will develop a yellow tint (with a brown tint in the whites of the eyes accompanying this). Additionally, their fingers will begin to grow longer and spindly, with their nails growing at a rapid rate. However, these are side effects compared to other afflictions the Red Death causes. The hormones the Parasitic Wine Worm secretes have the side effect of making the skin or scales of the host organism incredibly sensitive to UV Light. When under the Sun, the host will experience a great deal of pain, and before long, any exposed skin will begin to blister and peel. Due to this, those who have contracted the Red Death will soon refuse to go under the Sun at all, but, that is not to say they don't go outside. Perhaps the most horrifying symptoms of the Red Death are the following. Firstly, the fact that the worm is eating the blood of the host, as well as some hormonal side-effects, means that the host develops a ravenous craving for blood to compensate. To support this, the Worm begins to secrete special hormones that lower the acidity of the host's stomach acid. The massive amount of hormones being produced by the tiny worm will also begin to mess with the brain in an utterly horrible way. As their condition progresses and their hunger for blood heightens, the chemistry in their brain begins to drastically change. Hosts will lose their capacity for empathy, heralding a complete transition into a monstrous being. About a year into the infection, the Wine Worm will asexually reproduce after making its way up to the salivary glands. There, it will lay hundreds of microscopic eggs that lay dormant until the host bites another living being. Upon contact, a single egg will hatch and make its way down into the bloodstream of the victim of its host. Only one new worm makes the journey, as the host will often kill the victim in search of food, but the Red Death has been transmitted from one person to another before. Wine Worms that are transmitted into dead bodies will usually eat their fill, but will eventually die in a few days due to the lack of constant support from the host body. Due to the way in which the eggs are transmitted, hypersalivation is another symptom of the Red Death. After about 10 years, the Parasitic Wine Worm that has plagued the host will die. Any eggs that were not transmitted into another host will then hatch, and the last days of the host will be spent in agony as the worms eat blood faster than their heart can make it. They will become extremely lethargic and almost in constant pain, but also incredibly hungry for blood in this last stage of the disease. After the host succumbs to heart failure, the worms within the body will die soon after.
Interestingly enough, if it is caught in its earliest stages, the parasite can be killed using allium plants, such as garlic, onions, scallions, leeks, and chives. While one of the first things the worm does is make such even the slightest taste of these plants incredibly undesirable (so much so that they will vomit it out), if the host organism is forced to digest one of these plants, the blood will become toxic to the Wine Worm, causing it to die. This is due to the fact that when combined with the influence of the worm, the effects allium plants already have on the blood are increased, rendering the blood of the host temporarily toxic if consumed (especially for incredibly small organisms, like parasites). However, once the Red Death has lingered for a few months, the parasite will no longer be bothered by such changes and the host is free to eat as much garlic as they please. If forcing the host to consume allium is no longer an option, execution, tragically, is the only thing left. If it is left to linger, the parasite will force its host to kill and consume other organisms, with these victims often being other people. Even without the risk of the host murdering others, it is still a slow and ultimately painful death without any other cure.
Unlike other equally deadly and horrible ailments, such as cholera, typhoid fever, and lycanthropy, the Red Death was almost entirely exclusive to the upper class. While lower-class wine-drinkers had a chance of being infected, and they could of course transmit it via a bite, wine was (and still is) a rather bourgeoise drink. As such, the Red Death was seen as an affliction of the nobility and was romanticized because of it. While those infected by the parasite are of course feared, artists have long used the Red Death as a subject of their artwork, interpreting hosts as a tragic victim of their infection, and as artists are like to do, they sexualized it. While this interpretation is not wrong per se, as the Red Death is perhaps the most tragic of all diseases in how it functions, it is still quite odd.
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