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Study Detects Rabies Immune Response in Amazon Populations

Some people living in two Amazon communities in Peru survived being exposed to rabies virus without receiving treatment, according to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with the Peruvian Ministry of Health.

  • More than 55,000 people die of rabies each year. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. The early symptoms of rabies include fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.
  • Rabies can be prevented. In the United States, the vast majority of rabies cases reported to CDC each year occur in infected wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Human rabies is rare in the United States and recent cases of rabies are primarily due to bat bite exposures. Avoid contact with bats and other wildlife, and seek medical advice immediately if rabies virus exposures are suspected.
  • Natural immunity may be present in high risk communities. While injections administered after a person is exposed to rabies virus remain the best way to protect against onset of this fatal disease, there is strong evidence that an immune response may occur in certain communities where people are regularly exposed to the virus. However, even persons with antibodies must still seek treatment following a subsequent rabies virus exposure.

Scientists and researchers must now look and see if there may be public health measures which can be adopted to decrease exposures and promote actions to mitigate deaths among at-risk populations.

Selected Quotes

Nearly all rabies virus exposures that proceed to clinical infections are fatal. Our results support the idea that under very unique circumstances there may be some type of enhanced immune response in certain populations regularly exposed to the virus, which could prevent onset of clinical illness. However, a series of injections following an exposure remains the best way to protect people against rabies.
-Amy Gilbert, PhD, of CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases and lead author of the study

CDC works 24/7 saving lives and protecting people from health threats to have a more secure nation. Whether these threats are chronic or acute, manmade or natural, human error or deliberate attack, global or domestic, CDC is the U.S. health protection agency.

Contact Information

CDC Media Relations
(404) 639-3286
media@cdc.gov

Spokesperson
Amy T. Gilbert, Ph.D.

Graphics/Charts
A couple taking a photo near Big Ben in London
A village in Santa Marta, Peru - Photo by Amy Gilbert
A couple taking a photo near Big Ben in London
Photo of mulitple bats - Photo by Daniel Streicker

More photos

Multimedia

Video

Public Health Grand Rounds: Rabies Elimination in the 21st Century?
Screenshot of the Public Health Grand Rounds on Rabies

Author: CDC Panel
Date: 1/20/2011
PHGR:Rabies

Changes to Rabies Vaccine Recommendations
Screenshot of Brett Peterson's video on Changes to Rabies Vaccine Recommendations

Author: Brett W. Petersen, MD, MPH
Date: 2/22/2011
Changes to Rabies Vaccine Recommendations

Rabies Transmission, Identification, Diagnosis, and Safety
Screenshot of Brett Peterson's video on Rabies Transmission, Identification, Diagnosis, and Safety

Author: Brett W. Petersen, MD, MPH
Date: 3/31/2010
Rabies Transmission, Identification, Diagnosis, and Safety

Documents

Rabies: The Silent Killer

 
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