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Study Offers Hope for Human Rabies Treatment

Dogs (and often cats) in the United States receive rabies vaccines because they are required by law. Rabies vaccine laws exist to protect humans. The...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Sep 19th 2010


Dogs (and often cats) in the United States receive rabies vaccines because they are required by law. Rabies vaccine laws exist to protect humans. The vaccines are effective at protecting humans: the rate of human rabies in the USA dropped precipitously when dogs started getting vaccinated. (Cats generally are less likely to spread rabies to a human, although in the USA so many dogs are vaccinated that cats are a leading source of the disease.)

It’s a good thing that rabies vaccines work: rabies has the distinction of being the most deadly infectious disease in humans. Dying of rabies is not a pleasant thing.

In areas of the world where dogs aren’t routinely vaccinated, human rabies is common. It is estimated that 55,000 people die of rabies each year. Children are at special risk.

Treating rabies in humans is a daunting task. Post-exposure vaccination in combination with human rabies immune globulin works well if no symptoms are present. A medically induced coma has allowed a few people with symptoms to survive rabies.

In impoverished areas where rabies is common, human rabies immune globulin is hard to come by and medically induced comas are unheard of. A bite from a rabid dog is the equivalent of a death sentence in such places.

Therefore news of a promising new treatment for human rabies is welcome. Click here to read about the treatment.

Photo: rabies vaccines also protect dogs and cats from the most deadly infectious disease of their species. However, that’s not why they receive them.