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Untreated Rabies May Not Be Lethal for All, Study Says
Date:8/1/2012

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Bucking the notion that untreated rabies always proves lethal to humans, scientists studying the virus in isolated pockets of the world have found evidence that either natural resistance or an immune response may stave off certain death for some.

Traveling to the Peruvian Amazon, where outbreaks of rabies infections are spurred by highly common vampire bats, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention learned that 10 percent of natives appeared to have survived exposure to the virus without any medical intervention. Another 11 percent were found to have antibodies in their blood that would neutralize rabies.

"This is a potential game-changer if the study is repeated successfully," said Dr. Rodney Willoughby Jr., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and the author of an editorial accompanying the research. "It suggests either that rabies is not universally severe or fatal [HIV used to be thought of this way] or that there are ways of conferring relative resistance to rabies in humans. If the latter could be identified -- these days, probably through genetic sequencing -- then that might afford insights into prevention or treatment."

The study is published Aug. 1 in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

An average of two to four people die in the United States each year of rabies after bites from animals such as bats, dogs or raccoons. Though nearly wiped out in the United States due to domestic animal vaccinations, the infection kills about 55,000 annually in Africa and Asia alone. For those who believe they're infected, a series of shots are 100 percent effective at preventing death.

In Peru, vampire bats regularly seek out meals of mammalian blood from livestock and humans, using extremely sharp teeth and a blood thinner in their saliva
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