First unvaccinated survivor of rabies discharged from hospital

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Saturday, January 8, 2005

Rabies is a disease that has no cure and nearly everyone it infects is dead just two weeks after the symptoms show. And yet, last week a teenage girl named Jeanna Giese was released from a hospital having been successfuly treated. She became the first known person to recover from the disease without vaccination.

On September 12, 2004, Jeanna — a 15 year old from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin— was bitten by a bat while attending church. By the time she saw a doctor about fatigue and numbness, it was October 18, and the bat incident was not brought up until several days later. Usually when there is a possibility of rabies, doctors will vaccinate patients: the vaccine has a chance to act before the symptoms appear. In Jeanna's case it was too late to try to vaccinate, and her doctors at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin devised a new treatment. Jeanna was put into a drug-induced coma for a week, and doctors began an intensive treatment to prop up her nervous system until her natural immunity recovered enough to fight the disease.

By surviving and recovering, Jeanna became the only person known in medicine to overcome rabies without a vaccine. She is not yet fully recovered: the effects of the coma are still apparent, and she has difficulty with movement. Yet the doctors believe that she is getting well much faster than they expected, and feel that Jeanna will be able to return to her high school studies, needing only physical and occupational therapy.

The novel treatment is hailed by doctors as promising, but needs analysis and verification on another human. Jeanna's is the sixth case of human recovery from a rabies infection, but the other five people were vaccinated against rabies either before infection, or before the symptoms appeared.

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