Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rabies Survivor

I was looking through an issue of Scientific American magazine when I came across an article about rabies. The article was called “A Cure for Rabies?” and was about a teenager who survived an encounter with the deadly virus. I found this article very interesting, and it has made me think again about becoming a lab technician, or pursuing a similar occupation.
I read this article right out of the magazine, but the beginning of the article can be read at the following web address:

Jeanna Giese was an un-immunized fifteen-year-old when a bat bit, and infected her with rabies. Now she is the first known person to survive rabies without the immunization. Rabies is a RNA virus, and is usually located in the brain and nerves. The immune system is unable to detect the presence of a rabies microbe when first contracted because it doesn’t enter the blood stream, or the lymph nodes. If caught early enough, death from rabies can be prevented, but since the symptoms don’t start until after the treatment would do no good, lives that could be saved aren’t.
While the results of Jeanna’s tests were being analyzed, Infectious Disease Consultant, Rodney E. Willoughby, Jr., started doing some research in the event that her tests for rabies came back positive. Willoughby Jr. learned that the brains of victims who have died from rabies have virtually no visible problems, and when a victim dies after spending weeks with having intensive care, traces of the virus cannot be found. This means that a human’s immune system is capable of ridding the body of the rabies virus over time, but the body just doesn’t have precisely that; time. Apparently, this virus is able to gain control of the brain and cause it to kill the body without damaging itself. If the brain could be “stopped” for long enough for the immune system to get caught up with the disease, death may not be inevitable. After Jeanna’s tests came back positive, she was induced into a coma for a week, and during the duration of her coma, her blood and spinal fluid was tested to determine whether or not she was creating antibodies. Awaking from her coma, Jeanna was completely paralyzed, but steadily regained control of her body.
The treatment Jeanna underwent came to be known as the Milwaukee Project, and has been unsuccessfully attempted six times, so the question of whether or not there is a cure for rabies still remains.
The results of this experiment have made an impact on the world. The procedure has been tried without success in Germany, Thailand, the United States and India, though not all of the attempts followed the hypothesis used when curing Jeanna. Some experts are opposed to this therapy because it appears as though Jeanna’s survival goes against studies that have shown that brain cells are killed by the rabies virus. But the results of these studies may not be accurate because a different strain of rabies could have been used then the strain that is found in nature.
I found this magazine article to be very fascinating. I just think it’s so interesting that by putting Jeanna into a coma, her body was able to fight of the rabies virus. This is the type of science news that makes me want to major in science in college. I just don’t know if being a doctor or lab technician is something I’d be good at.

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