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It is believed that Wendigos are supernatural beings with an insatiable hunger for human flesh, or humans who are selfish and commit cannibalism and while the latter is more accurate, Wendigo fever is actually disease which originated in the New World which infects people who eat tainted meat. Some symptoms of Wendigo fever in chronological order are:

  • victims start having nightmares
  • victims body temperature starts to go up
  • victims start to develop albinism
  • fat deposits are burned though making the victim have to eat constantly
  • the victim experiences a near constant flow of adrenaline
  • pain receptors start to go numb
  • parts of the brain that control empathy go numb
  • victims begin to have a craving for human flesh (but will eat other meats if no humans are near by)

Given these traits how realistic is this? What type of disease would it likely be, and how would it spread?

NOTE: magic does not exist in my story

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It’s a Prion

There is already a deadly neurological disease caused by the consumption of human flesh. Kuru is a neurodegernative disease that causes uncontrollable shaking, loss of coordination, outbursts of laughter, ataxia, and a general state of delirium followed by wasting away. It was once common among the Fore People of Papua New Guinea, who were endocannibals.

Because prions damage the brain, everything from nightmares to appetite to pain receptors are all easily and credibly affected by them.

The brain controls the release of adrenaline, and if the body is constantly in overdrive it’s going to be continuously burning calories and therefore fat.

Albinism might be better explained not as true albinism per se, but the victim could just be very pale due to the metabolic effects of the prion, because albinism is a genetic disorder and it would take a while to lose all your pigment

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Cultural factors are extremely important here. Compare Piblokto, an Inuit condition which is considered to be a culture-specific hysterical state and which manifests as a form of raving insanity.

The point is, victims act in in the way that their culture tells them they will when afflicted with this condition. Up to and including eating people. Pretty much all the symptoms can be produced by a psycho-physical reaction with no need for any external agent.

So Wendigo psychosis, like lycanthropy Or indeed demonic possession), is recognised as a real mental condition rather than a physical/supernatural one. Which may make it much harder rather than easier to deal with. (Google Wendigo Psychosis and you'll see what I mean).

So it's a culture-bound condition which spreads by people being aware of it, and having particular psychological triggers eg intolerable stress.

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Your virus would need to destroy the ability to recept certain chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin which should reduce empathy

It should infect bacteria in the gut to make them more hungry, and synthesis dopamine to release once fed, causing the host to become addicted to the feeling

It should increase adrenaline production, causing the host to feel stressed and trigger the fight or flight response, possibility triggering canabalism

High adrenaline can also cause loss of memory and can numb pain and can increase physical strength, and the adrenaline induced state can increase heart rate and stop metabolism, causing fat to reduce.

One issue I see with this however, is that adrenaline can reduce hunger

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  • $\begingroup$ A virus that can infect both humans and their gut flora sounds... unlikely. It could alter the environment of the digestive tract enough to encourage some bacteria and discourage others to achieve a similar effect, perhaps. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Feb 10 at 12:27

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