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158 Healthcare Workers Exposed to Rabies in France - First Case in Over a Decade

Apr 25, 2015 01:38 AM EDT

French physicians identified a case of the deadliest disease in the world, rabies, in one unfortunate patient earlier this year. Before it was even realized what he had, 158 healthcare workers had been exposed to the deadly virus. Now, experts are calling this a strong reminder that rabies is very real, even in countries that take the proper precautions.

Nature World News recently took an in-depth look at how rabies still affects the world, with the disease continuing to kill a whopping 160 people every day in third-world nations. You can read more about that here.

"Rabies is close to 100 percent fatal, but it is also almost 100 percent preventable," Kevin Doran, a spokesperson for the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, had said in a statement concerning that report.

That's because, while the means in which the rabies virus attacks the body (climbing a mammal's nervous system like a ladder) makes it exceptionally hard to treat, stopping its progress before it reaches the brain - via proactive inoculation - is exceptionally effective.

Unfortunately, not every person has access to this life-saving solution, and even in developed worlds a victim may not even realize they were bit by a potentially rabid animal. This is reportedly what happened in France's latest case. (Scroll to read on...)

After returning from a six-month stay in Mali, West Africa, a 57-year-old French citizen found himself in an intensive care unit (ICU) with a mild fever, abundant sweating, general pain, and a slowed heartbeat (~40 beats per minute). The patient tested negative for Herpes simplex-1 and -2, HIV, syphilis, and epilepsy, among other conditions, and brain scans didn't reveal anything out of the ordinary.

Unfortunately, this was just the beginning. A report and study of this case recently published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology detailed how "two days after ICU admission, [the patient] developed bouts of hyperactivity, disorientation, and delirium with thoughts of impending death."

This alternated with periods of drowsiness and even brief returns to normalcy, in which the man "seemed aware of his disorder and criticized it."

Doctors were stumped.

Christian Brun-Buisson, head of the medical ICU, and director of the Infection Control Unit at Assistance Publique Hopitaux de Paris, France, said in a statement that what was most disturbing was that there was "no obvious exposure to an animal bite, which made us search for an array of diseases before one of our team members suggested it could be a case of imported rabies."

A skin biopsy and saliva swabs finally confirmed the rabies diagnoses 13 days after the patient first was admitted. The patient tragically died six days later.

However, this meant that professionals were dealing with this man for 13 days before learning of his incredibly deadly infection - an oversight that resulted in 158 healthcare workers potentially exposed.

"Hypersalivation was remarkable and the patient occasionally spat on ICU personnel," the report read.

A hasty investigation deemed 52 staff members at immediate risk and had them promptly vaccinated. Two professionals who worked directly with fluid samples also received immunoglobin treatment as an added precaution.

"This case serves as a reminder to physicians that rabies should be considered in patients presenting with unusual neurological symptoms and coming from a geographical area where rabies is a common disease," said Brun-Buisson. "Making this diagnosis early is important, since there is a potential risk for caregivers to be contaminated if strict isolation precautions are not taken. This is obviously of utmost importance as rabies is a uniformly fatal disease."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).


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