CDC researchers interviewed 92 people, 50 of whom reported previous bat bites. Blood samples were taken from 63 participants, with seven found to have rabies virus-neutralizing antibodies. Only one of the seven reported receiving a rabies vaccination, which would generate such antibodies, but no evidence existed that the rest had sought either a vaccination or treatment for a bat bite.
Study author Amy Gilbert, a postdoctoral fellow with the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said the research suggests the rabies virus is not invariably fatal to people.
"Generally, most folks presume we don't develop antibodies to respond to rabies exposures," she said, "but this was a scenario where clearly there were exposures to the virus that did not lead to disease. I think the same recommendations and advice still hold -- that anyone with a bite exposure to a bat or other carnivore needs to seek out post-exposure [injections]."
In his editorial, Willoughby noted two recent cases in the United States (in Texas and California) where children recovered from rabies without intensive treatment after suspected bat bites.
"Knowing that there is a continuum of disease, even for infectious diseases like rabies, should push us harder to try for cures when confronted by so-called untreatable infectious diseases," he wrote. "Modern therapeutics can move us . . . toward greater survival, even when specific cures or antidotes remain undiscovered."
The U.S. National Library of Medicine offers more on rabies.
SOURCES: Amy Gilbert, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Rodney Willoughby
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