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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rabies and prayer

The miracle of Jeanna Giese
There are so many examples of the power of prayer, but one in particular deserves special consideration because it is so well documented. In December of 2004 a girl named Jeanna Giese survived a bite from a rabid bat through prayer. Hundreds of newspapers (including the Raleigh News and Observer in my home town) ran stories about the miracle of her recovery with headlines such as "Rabies girl in miracle recovery." In Raleigh, the headline was "Web weaves global prayer circle - Petitions circle the world as girl beats rare case of rabies." [Source: by Sharon Roznik, Raleigh News and Observer, December 17, 2004]
The summary of the story goes like this. Jeanna was in a church service in Wisconsin when a brown bat fell into the aisle. She picked the bat up and carried it outside. No one gave it a second thought. A month later it was obvious that something was wrong. Soon Jeanna had a full case of rabies. No human has ever survived this disease without being vaccinated. Up until 2004, full-blown rabies had been 100% fatal. According to the article, a global prayer circle helped Jeanna survive. Once she got sick, Jeanna's father called friends and asked them to pray for Jeanna. People around the world heard about her story through the press and by word of mouth. They prayed. They sent emails. They passed the word along. Millions of people heard about Jeanna's plight and they said prayers for her. And the prayer circle worked. Through the power of God, Jeanna recovered. Jeanna was the first human to survive rabies without the vaccine. Dr. Charles Rupprecht of the CDC in Atlanta called Jeanna's case a miracle. The family and everyone in Jeanna's huge, global prayer circle know that God heard their prayers and answered them. This is amazing stuff. The dictionary defines a miracle as "An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God." [ref] So we must ask a fundamental question: Did an all-loving, all-powerful God hear the prayers from Jeanna's worldwide prayer circle and then reach down from heaven to help Jeanna? Did God actually interact with Jeanna's body, making the impossible happen and curing her case of rabies through a divine miracle? Or did something else happen?

Well, guess what? Something else did happen. Her doctor cured her and using the same technique, others have cured more people who had rabies. And the story was wrong about no body surviving rabies without being vaccinated or cured as well. How unsurprising.

"Last year a team of researchers from Peru and the U.S. made a discovery that challenged one of the most widely held assumptions about rabies—that the virus is nearly always fatal unless doctors administer a vaccine before it reaches the brain. Based on the results of blood tests, the scientists learned that half a dozen villagers in a remote part of the Peruvian Amazon had previously been infected—probably through bites from vampire bats, which are common in the area

But instead of suffering the agonizing deaths for which rabies is infamous, the villagers had recovered and apparently developed immunity to further infection.
The discovery put the Peruvians on a short list of people who have survived rabies without a vaccine. The best-known member of that select group is Jeanna Giese, a Wisconsin teenager who lived through the disease in 2004, also after contact with a bat. Out of desperation, Giese's physician improvised a risky treatment that included putting the girl into a controlled coma, which apparently allowed her body enough time to destroy the microscopic intruder. Doctors have since refined the treatment, now known as the Milwaukee protocol, and tried it on at least 39 other never vaccinated patients. Five more people have survived.

The mixed success rates, and the 2012 Peruvian study, underscore how little scientists know about rabies, despite its long history as a menace to humanity. Based on accumulating evidence, though, researchers now recognize that not all rabies infections are equal or universally fatal. Many different animals, including dogs, bats, foxes and raccoons, carry various strains of the rabies virus. The varieties hosted by bats and foxes appear to be weaker, and some people's immune systems may be able to defeat them without a vaccine."