An angry, hissing kitten.
Precious Reynolds was reportedly infected with rabies by the bite of a feral cat. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/colleen/Flickr)

Eight-year-old girl Precious Reynolds of Willow Creek, Calif., is a survivor. According to University of California Davis Children’s Hospital, she is one of a small handful of people in recorded U.S. history to survive the rabies virus without having received targeted antiviral medications immediately following exposure.

Infected by a feral cat

While 97 percent of rabies is spread via dog bites, Reynolds is believed to have contracted rabies from the bite of a feral cat in or near her rural Humboldt County elementary school in April 2011. The animal could not be found, and the exact date of the incident is unclear.

Traditionally, medical experts urge anyone who has potentially been exposed to rabies to receive vaccination within 24 hours. Otherwise, if the virus is present, it replicates at an astonishing rate and invades the central nervous system. In nearly 100 percent of cases where symptoms of rabies inflection manifest in humans, the disease is fatal.

Rabies causes encephalitis

In warm-blooded animals, the rabies virus causes acute encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. It is most commonly spread by animal bite, through as little as a drop of infected saliva. Prior to the onset of severe symptoms ranging from foaming at the mouth to intense pain and accompanying violent behavior, a post-exposure prophylaxis should be administered within 24 hours to keep the virus from quickly spreading through the central nervous system and into the brain.

Early, less severe symptoms of rabies infection are often mistaken for the flu, and include headaches, fever, weakness and discomfort. Insomnia, anxiety, paralysis, hydrophobia and other symptoms set in as the disease progresses. Medical experts regularly refer to death by rabies “one of the worst deaths imaginable,” such is the convulsive pain, panic and utter insanity experienced by the victim.

From flu to polio to rabies

Precious Reynolds’ grandmother brought her granddaughter in for tests in May when symptoms of what she thought was a persistent flu began to resemble those of of polio. Once medical officials discovered that Reynolds had rabies, the prognosis they gave for the girl was grim. Yet placing her in a drug-induced coma and bombarding her with antivirals proved effective.

“None of us thought she would leave the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit),” said nurse Krystle Realyvasquez. “When she did, it was unbelievable.”

Bats in the belfry

Precious Reynolds isn’t the first person to survive rabies in near-miraculous fashion. Then 14-year-old Jeanna Giese of Wisconsin was bitten by a rabid bat in 2004 as she sat in a church pew. She became the first person known to have survived rabies without immediate treatment. According to the Associated Press, Giese graduated from college last month.

Jeanna Giese: The first person to survive rabies


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