As most people understand, rabies is a little different than most vaccine-preventable diseases.
Unlike other vaccines, you typically don’t get a rabies vaccine until after you are exposed to the rabies virus. That’s why the rabies vaccine isn’t on the routine childhood immunization schedule.
And that’s why we also try to routinely vaccinate all of the animals around us that might get rabies, especially our pets.
It’s also why it’s important to avoid animals that might have rabies, including unfamiliar cats and dogs, and wild animals, especially bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes.
A 6-year-old in Florida Has Rabies
Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t always work.
A 6-year-old in Florida, Ryker Roque, was recently exposed to rabies when his father found a sick bat and placed it in a bucket on their porch. Little Ryker eventually put his hand in the bucket and was “scratched” by the bat, even though his father had warned him not to touch the bat.
After searching for information on what to do if a child is bitten by a sick bat, Ryker’s parents decided to wash his hands with soap and hot water.
“If you think your pet has been bitten by a bat, contact a veterinarian or your health department for assistance immediately and have the bat tested for rabies.”
CDC on Coming in contact with bats
The Today Show reports that they didn’t take him for rabies shots, even though they “knew they should have,” because “Ryker cried at the thought of getting shots.”
In a more common scenario, or maybe what happened here, parents simply decide that the risk is low and they take their chances. This is even more common after a child is bitten by a stray cat or dog and you simply don’t have vaccination records or an animal to put in quarantine.
Experimental Treatments for Rabies
When traditional post-exposure prophylaxis isn’t used – human rabies immune globulin and a series of rabies shots to prevent someone from getting rabies, the disease is historically fatal. We have no good treatments for human rabies and rabies encephalitis.
“The poor prognosis in rabies may reflect the fact that infection induces immune unresponsiveness, characterized by impaired T-cell function, with altered cytokine patterns, inhibition of T-cell proliferation, and the destruction of immune cells.”
Alan C Jackson on Current and future approaches to the therapy of human rabies
Fortunately, some experimental treatments have been developed that can offer at least a little bit of hope when someone gets rabies, including:
- The Milwaukee Protocol – developed for a 15-year-old girl in Wisconsin who developed rabies symptoms one month after picking up a bat that had fallen to the floor at church. The bat bit her as she carried it outside. As her symptoms progressed, she was put into a drug induced coma, put on a ventilator, and given antiviral medications. She eventually recovered with mild to moderate after-effects, but most others on the protocol do not recover at all.
- use of rabies virus-neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies
- new experimental vaccines
Tragically, reports about recovery from rabies and rabies encephalitis are rare.
Things that might point to a favorable outcome, in addition to being vaccinated, including being young and healthy, having mild symptoms when treatment is started, and being exposed to rabies from a bat, instead of a dog or other animal.
Unfortunately, like many others, Ryker died while on the protocol.
Anti-Vaccine Websites and Rabies Vaccines
Believe it or not, anti-vaccine websites even work to scare folks away from getting rabies vaccines after their kids are exposed to a rabid animal.
- Age of Autism promotes a self published book about a child who “who regressed into autism following a series of rabies vaccines when he was three and a half”
- The Healthy Home Economist claims that our pets are suffering from vaccinosis, that pet vaccines contain a toxic chemical cocktail, and that they are a scientific fraud.
- GreenMedinfo published an article from Suzanne Humphries, MD warns that an ingredient in the rabies vaccine “could possibly throw children or adults onto dialysis and/or a kidney transplant”
- Kelly Brogan, MD, in her “review article,” Psychobiology of Vaccination Effects: Bidirectional Relevance of Depression, continues to push the idea that the rabies vaccine can cause ADEM.
And of course, almost every anti-vaccine website and anti-vaccine expert pushes the idea that vaccines don’t work.
Get educated. While vaccines are always necessary, there are some situations when they are critically important.
What to Know About Bats and Rabies
Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease, so be sure to seek quick medical attention if there is ever a possibility that your child was exposed to a rabid animal, whether it is a dog, cat, bat, raccoon, skunk, fox, or coyote.
More on Bats and Rabies
- CDC – Coming in contact with bats
- CDC – Rabies Postexposure Vaccinations
- Rabies: Questions and Answers
- Bats In The Bedroom Can Spread Rabies Without An Obvious Bite
- 6-year-old boy fighting rabies as family hopes for a cure
- Boy, 6, Undergoes Experimental Rabies Treatment
- CDC – Recovery of a Patient from Clinical Rabies — Wisconsin, 2004
- Letter – Long-Term Follow-up after Treatment of Rabies by Induction of Coma
- Study – Current and future approaches to the therapy of human rabies.
- Study – Experimental utility of rabies virus-neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies in post-exposure prophylaxis
- Study – Parainfluenza virus 5 expressing the G protein of rabies virus protects mice after rabies virus infection
- Study – Evaluation of short-interfering RNAs treatment in experimental rabies due to wild-type virus
- Review – Bats, emerging infectious diseases, and the rabies paradigm revisited
- Book – Rabies (Third Edition)
Updated January 15, 2018