Jungle dwellers in Peru show signs of being immune to the deadly disease, possibly because of vampire bats.
Here’s a story that could offer hope to understanding and maybe the eventual erradication of rabies, the highly fatal disease. Rabies has been thought of as virtually 100-percent fatal unless treated immediately, but new research shows that a small number of isolated Peruvians have natural immunity from the animal-transmitted disease.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in 15 people living in the remote Amazonian region in Peru were protected without medical intervention against the virus that kills more than 55,000 people globally every year.
“Our results open the door to the idea that there may be some type of natural resistance or enhanced immune response in certain communities regularly exposed to the disease,” Amy Gilbert, a researcher with the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases and co-lead study author, said in a statement. “This means there may be ways to develop effective treatments that can save lives in areas where rabies remains a persistent cause of death.” [Infographic: Leading Causes of Death]
Rabies is a neurological disease transmitted from animals to humans by infected-saliva exposure through bites or scratches. However, the disease can be prevented through immunization within hours of exposure.
“The new news here is that in areas in the world where rabies is endemic and there aren’t vaccinations, there may be some resistance,” James Kazura, president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and global health professor at Case Western Reserve University, told LiveScience in a telephone interview.
To this end, the researchers said they planned to expand their study into other rabies-exposed populations to determine if resistance may be more common worldwide.
Previous work suggested that some people could naturally produce antibodies against the virus, including Inuit hunters in the Canadian Arctic and raccoon hunters in Florida.
In the Peruvian study, Gilbert and colleagues wanted to look at interactions between bats and humans to better understand not only rabies, but also emerging diseases.
The researchers unexpectedly found six people out of 92 interviewed who had developed antibodies against rabies, even though they had never been vaccinated.