On September 12, 2004, Jeanna Giese, then fifteen years old, and a student at St. Mary Springs High School, picked up a bat while attending St. Patrick’s Church in her hometown of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. She sustained a small bite on her left index finger from the animal, and having treated it with hydrogen peroxide, the family decided not to seek medical attention.
Thirty-seven days after the bite, Giese developed neurological symptoms. She was admitted to St. Agnes Hospital with a 102 °F (39 °C) fever, double vision, slurred speech, and jerking in her left arm.
She did not respond to treatment and tested negative for all other diseases. As her condition deteriorated, her mother mentioned that Giese had been bitten by a bat about a month before getting sick. She was then diagnosed with rabies and referred to Dr. Willoughby at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa. The diagnosis was later confirmed by laboratory tests at the Centers for Disease Control.
Medical history has shown that most rabies deaths are caused by temporary brain dysfunction with little to no damage occurring to the brain itself. Dr. Willoughby’s goal was to put Giese into an induced coma to essentially protect herself from her brain, with the hope that she would survive long enough for her immune system to produce the antibodies to fight off the virus.
Giese was brought out of the coma after six days once signs of the immune system’s progress became apparent and became the first of only five patients known to have survived symptomatic rabies without receiving the rabies vaccine.
Developed and named by Rodney Willoughby Jr. following the successful treatment of Jeanna Giese, the Milwaukee protocol is an experimental course of treatment of an acute infection of rabies in a human being. The treatment involves putting the patient into a chemically induced coma and administering antiviral drugs.
Having read Stephen King’s Cujo several times and watched 28 Days & Weeks later several dozen times, I have to say that rabies scare the shit out of me! I was always fascinated by the mortality rate of that disease and how effective it is. So it’s good to know that there are certain procedures that could fight this horrible disease and possibly save lives.