Rabies is a strange and scary thing. Until 2004, this virus was 100% lethal in humans—without a dose of life-saving vaccine, preferably before symptoms even presented themselves, everybody died. That changed with the introduction of the Milwaukee Protocol, an experimental treatment that calls for patients to be put into medically induced comas and given antiviral drugs. The idea is that, usually, people die not from rabies itself, but from related dysfunction of their nervous system. If you shut down the brain, maybe the dysfunction won't matter as much and you can keep the person alive long enough for their immune system to kill the rabies. The video above tells the story of the first person to survive rabies thanks to the Milwaukee Protocol and how the Protocol works.
The treatment has not worked on everybody. In general, it's worked best on older children and teenagers. This week, 8-year-old Precious Reynolds became the 3rd American—and 6th person ever—saved by the Protocol.
Tests in early May revealed she had the disease after Precious's grandmother took her to the doctor because of flu-like symptoms that grew so serious her grandmother said they began to resemble polio.
"She went to the bathroom and her legs went out from under her," said Shirlee Roby, Precious' grandmother. "I told my husband this is no flu. There is something wrong, we're going back to the emergency room."
Nurses at the hospital thought her chances were slim when she arrived at the pediatric intensive care unit.
"None of us thought she would leave the PICU," Krystle Realyvasquez, a nurse who cared for Precious, said in the statement. "When she did it was unbelievable."
Via Frank Swain
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.