Rabies is a viral disease transmitted via the bite of an animal through the virus-harboring saliva. However, there are some animals that are especially common hosts. These usually include wild mammals such as skunks, foxes and coyotes. Once the virus enters the body, it infects the central nervous system, damaging the brain and eventually causing death. Fortunately, there are vaccines available for the disease. One vaccine can be given pre-exposure to individuals that may come into regular contact with potential rabies hosts; the other is given post-exposure but must be given prior to the onset of symptoms in order to be effective.
Source: Evan Kafka
In 2004, a new treatment was developed that was meant to treat rabies after the manifestation of symptoms; something that was considered impossible in the past. This treatment was known as the Milwaukee Protocol. The idea was to place the patient under an induced coma and then treat them with a concoction of anti-viral drugs. This treatment has been successful in some individuals, most notably Jeanna Giese who survived from rabies when she contracted the disease at age 15. Unfortunately, the treatment has not been proven to be effective for all individuals.
The exciting news is that researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered a new way to fight rabies even after it has spread to the central nervous system. The scientists produced a new vaccine using a protein found in rabies and inserting it into PIV5, a virus thought to cause upper respiratory infections in dogs. PIV5 functions as a vector to deliver the vaccine into the immune system of the patient and induce the production of antibodies to combat the rabies virus. When they administered the vaccine to mice that had already started displaying symptoms of rabies, they discovered that half of them survived. In fact, the the vaccine appeared to be effective up to 6 days after the infection.
Source: Ulet Ifansasti
With the discovery of this new potential vaccines against rabies, the window of opportunity to treat the disease is no longer as limited as it was before. Prior to this discovery, there was little chance of survival after the rabies virus had spread to the central nervous system. Although the Milwaukee Protocol has proven successful, its effectiveness varies from individual to individual. However, this new system of vaccine has demonstrated the great potential to be successful in treating rabies after exposure and development of symptoms. The hope is that further studies can confirm the effectiveness of the vaccine in humans. Perhaps one day, time will no longer be the ultimate deciding factor for an individual’s chances of survival from the disease.
Feature Image Source: Alachua County