Demonic possession occurs when an evil spirit hijacks the biological system of an organism, corrupting it and taking control of its functions. Although powerful, the possession eventually breaks down the body, degrading it as time goes on, due to its incompatibility with the ethereal form. The demon must exert more of its strength to keep the body together and remain in the mortal world, eventually destroying it and being sent back to its plane. There are, however, special individuals who can act as perfect "containers", able to withstand the pressure of having an evil spirit inside them. These are called demonhosts, and are the perfect blend of human and demon in which the spirit can use its powers to full extent without damaging its hijacked form.

Demonic possession acts similar to a virus, which functions by incorporating its own genetic material into the genome of the infected cells. This infection spreads to other cells, destroying the original cell in the process and eventually spreads throughout the body and brain. This form of self replication occurs very quickly and degrades neural tissue in order to complete its life cycle. This leads to the eventual breakdown of the human form, as it begins to show signs of heavy mutation (for example: horns, scaly skin, spikes, etc).

With a demonhost, the viral infection functions the same way, but cannot be discovered by tests. It leaves cells undamaged and cannot be detected as it moves from cell to cell. Being able to leave no trace of itself prevents it from being noticed or discovered by onlookers and scientists as it subtly takes over its host and consumes its soul, which is completely aware of it but unable to do anything about it.

How could a virus operate in this way?

  • $\begingroup$ Must it be undetectable? Unless the victim happens to go in for his Physical Exam, there'd be no reason to do a deep scan. $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2019 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ If it weren’t for the physical changes I’d say break out the prions!!! $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ Viral infection is already rarely noticed. Your body's actions to fight the virus, however, are very noticeable. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ The first paragraph sounds very similar to how archangels work in Supernatural. $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2019 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't scientific so I offer it as a comment instead of as an answer. Perhaps the demon hosts are actually the offspring of infiltrators from the demonic plane. Their body is able to host a demon possession specifically because that is what it was designed to do, by its ancestors, less perfectly possessed people, several generations earlier. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2019 at 2:46

4 Answers 4


This is known as an Asymptomatic carrier - someone who never shows signs of the infection.

This is distinct from an incubatory carrier (not yet showing signs of infection, but does later) or a convalescent carrier (no longer shows signs of infection, but has done so previously. Often incorrectly consider themselves to be "cured")

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    $\begingroup$ you beated me to the minute... $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ This works unless the OP is strict about "detectable via exam" . $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2019 at 18:40

It's a retrovirus

A retrovirus is a type of RNA virus that inserts a copy of its genome into the DNA of a host cell that it invades, thus changing the genome of that cell. Such viruses are either single stranded RNA (e.g. HIV) or double stranded DNA (e.g. Hepatitis B virus) viruses.

Once inside the host cell's cytoplasm, the virus uses its own reverse transcriptase enzyme to produce DNA from its RNA genome, the reverse of the usual pattern, thus retro (backwards). The new DNA is then incorporated into the host cell genome by an integrase enzyme, at which point the retroviral DNA is referred to as a provirus. The host cell then treats the viral DNA as part of its own genome, transcribing and translating the viral genes along with the cell's own genes, producing the proteins required to assemble new copies of the virus. It is difficult to detect the virus until it has infected the host. At that point, the infection will persist indefinitely.

In most viruses, DNA is transcribed into RNA, and then RNA is translated into protein. However, retroviruses function differently, as their RNA is reverse-transcribed into DNA, which is integrated into the host cell's genome (when it becomes a provirus), and then undergoes the usual transcription and translational processes to express the genes carried by the virus. (ref)

A retrovirus is difficult to detect even with our current knowledge, until it has fully infected the host. Then it's next to impossible to get rid of.

While the enzyme retroviruses use, reverse transcriptase, was discovered in 1971, the first retrovirus wasn't discovered until 1979. Others, like HIV, weren't isolated until 1983.

Because retroviruses are all somewhat different from each other and can have long incubation periods, there are likely some we haven't figured out how to detect yet. There are some methods (see A simple, general method for detecting retroviral RNAs expressed in cells) to "search for unidentified retroviruses expressed in human cancer cells and tissues" but we'd have to know to look for them. Retroviruses are common and just finding one in a human doesn't mean it's demonic possession; it could just be a new strain of hepatitis.

If your demonhost isn't showing symptoms, there is no reason to test her/him. Some retroviruses lie dorment for years. If there are symptoms but they are explained by other medical (or psychological) conditions, there would be no advanced testing. Also, your society may be similar to ours in medical technology, but that doesn't mean identical. Perhaps they haven't discovered retroviruses or engineered tests for them yet.


In the case of the demonhost, it sounds like what you're describing is more of a symbiotic (rather than parasitic) relationship between the infection and the host. Unlike the possessed individual, in the case of the demonhost the viral infection in this case would just be using the host cells as as food source while it reproduces itself throughout the body, but doesn't go into the 'active mode' of possession.

Now, that having been said, if there's foreign genetic material in your demonhosts, then that foreign genetic material MUST BE detectable. You can't make DNA invisible. It's physically there, if you put it under a microscope, you can see there's something in there that's not normal human cells.

Now, that said, that doesn't necessarily cause a problem for your story. Just because it's POSSIBLE to detect it doesn't mean that physicians in your world know how to do it, or that it's easy or practical.

The simplest solution I can think of is that the demonic cells break down very rapidly when removed from the human body. Perhaps they're relying on body heat, the body's natural electromagnetic field, or both. In any case, it's very plausible to have a scenario where you have a VERY short window to examine a sample before the viral cells break down into bits of protein indistinguishable from the normal metabolic waste constantly in your bloodstream.

In this case the medical profession in your world would probably BELIEVE that the infection was undetectable even through they could detect it if they knew how.

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    $\begingroup$ Lots of tests for current infections are actually checking for antibodies (i.e. the body's response to infection). It's why AIDS is undetectable for a while after first infection. $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2019 at 19:07

There was a disease in the middleages that caused a small portion of a town to literally dance to death they found the bodies a few years ago but have yet to find what caused it. There are a lot of symptoms that people just ignore or eventually consider to be normal tingling of the limbs in a minor every once in a while way could be overlooked that's why diabetes isn't first discovered that way. Simple itches turn into rashes but people may say your just allergic to X instead of checking it further.

Take diabetes for instance people can have symptoms like blurry vision or tingling but other diabetics have absolutely nothing only the AC1C test shows you have any issue at all. Those blurry eyes can be blamed on I need glasses or I'm getting old rather then diabetes almost collapsing at work from low blood sugar can be blamed on stress, working to feverently, or not eating breakfast that morning or "I only get it every once in a blue moon so no worries here."

Your virus demons could be similar slight aches or ringing in the ear that go away after a moment overtime will cause no alarm, people would blame the cold they come down with some months later as a cold, its not until you get to things effecting your walking, breathing, speaking, or eating until some might want to look into it others might feel they're ok adjusting to it and waiting it out meaning by the time they decide I can't do this because they can't walk from their driveway to their mailbox it might be too late. Perhapse the demon can trick those around the person too so help isn't received? The person starts to be labeled as a faker and doing it for attention eventually they die and people assume its anything if the cornier has anything to say at all.

Combine this with doctors who don't want to do their jobs they want the patient to tell them what diagnosis the last doctor gave them and then they say yep that's what you got alright just to take their money and wait for the next booking. A disease of demon position could go undetected for a long time.

If a competent doctor was going to run tests they'd just come back normal a doctor isn't going to run a test for say the bone marrow to be tested if they have no just cause in ordering that. If it doesn't show up in any tests either the patient or the doctor is going to give up or else the patient might look for a specialist to take them on as a private case earning themselves the distinction of having a disease that only they have. Meaning not many common people (if any) will know of the disease or care to look it up aiding in the entire under the radar thing you are naturally going for.

Assuming the CDC exists in your world they aren't going to care about 12 -- 70 people having diseases named after them and until the doctors findout that they have patients with the same symptoms (assuming these demons with different personas have the same symptoms on each patient) nothing will change. If the doctors did findout they could put together a panel to make a study paper and who knows if anyone will read it or say maybe the CDC should care about this? The CDC might care more on future zombie outbreak management then a case study with so little of the population effected by some auto immune disorder to give it any funds.


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