Defying conventional wisdom about rabies, a new study suggests that the disease may not be 100 percent fatal.
Scientists who took blood samples from 63 relatively healthy villagers in the Amazon jungle in Peru, where vampire bat bites are common, found seven people who had antibodies to rabies. Only one reported ever having had a rabies shot (which would also produce antibodies).
The study, led by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection and Peru’s Health Ministry, was published Aug. 1 in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Rabies kills about 55,000 people a year, mostly in Africa and Asia; many are children bitten by dogs. But in Peru, 81 percent of known rabies deaths are from bats.
More than half the Amazon villagers interviewed said they had been bitten; vampire bats can drink without awakening their victims.
Several Americans have survived rabies without getting post-exposure shots, but almost always after intensive care, including induced comas. A rare exception is believed to be a Texas teenager in 2009 whose rabies was diagnosed only after she had been treated for what was thought to be bacterial or viral encephalitis. She was never in intensive care and yet survived.
It is not known what factors might make some people naturally resistant to rabies. But if some people are, an editorial with the study said, sequencing their genomes may lead to a cure.
A version of this article appeared in print on August 7, 2012, on page D6 of the New York edition.
Commentary: Given the fact that as per WHO the largest number of deaths due to Rabies occur in India, and the recent transmission of Rabies to a traveler from UK in India, causing their death, it is encouraging to note that there may be a way to prevent certain death due to this virus.
Having seen the painful & pitiable conditions of its victims firsthand, I am delighted to hear of any possibilities of its cure, however remote this may be at the present point of time.