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One in a Million

Patient survives late-stage rabies infection

12:20pm, January 24, 2005

A 15-year-old girl has become the sixth person in medical history to live through an advanced case of rabies and the first one to do so without receiving the rabies vaccine. She received a novel therapy, and scientists are now considering whether it was the key to her recovery.

When Jeanna Giese of Fond du Lac, Wis., was admitted to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee last October, she was lethargic and had experienced several days of double vision, fatigue, nausea, and some numbness. Her prospects were bleak because a month earlier, a bat had bitten her, says pediatrician Rodney E. Willoughby, who has treated Giese ever since she arrived at the hospital.

Like most physicians, Willoughby had never seen anyone with rabies that had progressed to symptoms. The rabies vaccine cures most people bitten by a rabid animal in developed countries, but if a rabies exposure goes untreated, the patient almost always dies within days of the appearance of symptoms.

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