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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.
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
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