Rabies is a fatal virus that claims the lives of 60,000 people every year. The group most afflicted by this terrible disease is children in Asia and Africa.
Rabies usually enters the human body through a bite or broken skin and is commonly carried in the saliva of wild dogs. While most people contract rabies through dog bites, the virus can also be carried by bats, foxes, raccoons, and other wild animals. There have also been cited cases of rabies spreading through the air—especially in humid locations like bat caves. Symptoms include drooling, excitability, loss of muscle function, low-grade fever, numbness, ear ringing, restlessness, and difficulty swallowing.
Because rabies is such a problem in developing countries, researchers have created rabies kits, which test if the virus is present in an animal. However, these kits are occasionally inaccurate.
Recent research shows that rabies kits, which cost around $3-$11, are unreliable. Researchers found that they have high false positive rates. This means the tests can falsely indicate the presence of the disease. Rabies kits also present too many false negatives, according to researchers. False negatives are more dangerous than false positives because they can cause patients not to seek treatment. For the rabies kit to work effectively, the animal in question must be killed so a dilution of its brain can be studied.
Unless treated immediately, rabies is fatal. Treatment involves five doses of a vaccine into the arm and sometimes many shots of immunoglobulin, or antibodies against the rabies virus, directly into the wound. Treatment in America can cost up to $3,000, but the price, which varies in poorer countries, is often inaccessible to people who need it.
The study of the accuracy of rabies kits is not meant to discourage people from using them. Rather, this informs users not to rely on the kits alone. Scientists are currently working to improve the quality of rabies testing tools.
[Source: The New York Times]