Interesting article about rabies, which until recently was 100% fatal in symptomatic humans -- maybe -- and the story of the last-ditch desperate cure that seems to work -- maybe.
There is something very compelling about the narrative, in which a physician who is completely inexperienced in rabies treatment, but faced with a young doomed patient, buries his nose in the books and comes up with a Crazy Idea That Just Might Work:
[T]oday, after millennia of futility, hospitals have an actual treatment to try. It was developed in 2004 by a pediatrician in Milwaukee named Rodney Willoughby, who, like the vast majority of American doctors, had never seen a case of rabies before. (In the US, there are usually fewer than five per year.) Yet Willoughby managed to save a young rabies patient, a girl of 15, by using drugs to induce a deep, week-long coma and then carefully bringing her out of it. It was the first documented case of a human surviving rabies without at least some vaccination before the onset of symptoms. Soon Willoughby posted his regimen online, and he worked with hospitals around the world to repeat and refine its use. Now referred to as the Milwaukee protocol, his methodology has continued to show limited success: Of 41 attempts worldwide, five more patients have pulled through...
Even though his specialty was infectious disease, Willoughby knew almost nothing about rabies. “For the board exams,” he says, “you only needed to know one thing: that it was 100 percent fatal.” He telephoned the CDC to ask if there was any treatment somewhere in the research pipeline—some promising new therapy, perhaps, not yet published in any medical journal. The CDC had nothing. Not one person had ever been shown to survive rabies without having gotten at least partial vaccination before the virus reached the brain.
With less than a day to formulate a plan, Willoughby attacked the problem with quick but deliberate reading, using his limited time to review the basic neuroscience of rabies.
...Willoughby laid out a last-ditch idea, the surprising result of his day of reading and thinking. The solution, he says in retrospect, had been “hiding in plain sight.”
A pretty exciting story, but one that still remains largely unconfirmed by fundamental research. The article details some of the objections that have been raised by researchers. Still, when you are dealing with "100% fatal," it becomes much more attractive to try the untested.
On the same topic: I heard on NPR a week or two ago that there is a new nonfiction book out on rabies, called Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus. It sounded good, but I have to get in line for a copy at the library. The authors are a husband-and-wife team (he's a journalist, she's a veterinarian). I am looking forward to it, when I move to the head of the line.
I am really in the mood to read something fluffy and light, which for me means "almost anything nonfiction." I just barely managed to finish Kristin Lavransdatter in time to return it to the library before it went overdue, and while I enjoyed the book, it exhausted me as epic multigenerational literature tends to do. If it were not for the patronymics I would never have been able to keep track of everyone, but at least since I always had a clue as to whose daughter or son everybody was (Kristin is Lavrans's daughter, get it?), I didn't fall very far behind.
Anyway, after having struggled through Kristin (a book which, at least, got better and more gripping the deeper I got into it), I polished off the deeply weird nonfiction book The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson in a matter of hours. This is part nonfiction and part introspection, a book about psychopathology and mental illness -- or maybe it is more about the author's investigation into psychopathology, since Ronson injects all kinds of commentary about his interviewees and his own reactions to them throughout the book. The style is mildly self-deprecating, and Ronson depicts himself as sort of star-struck by the people he is interviewing -- he is forever being amazed that he has managed to score the interviews with this eminent researcher or that institutionalized criminal or this other possibly psychopathic CEO -- and somewhere in the middle of the book I began to be convinced that the style was really just an act meant to guide the reader to conclusions about the interviewees. (Namely, that maybe the psychiatrists who study psychopathology are sometimes themselves psychopaths.)
I think I will stop here before anyone draws any conclusions about the fact that I suggested books about rabies and psychopaths as beach reads. Ahem.