New Advances in Rabies Testing and Treatment
IMPORTANT UPDATE FEBRUARY 18, 2009: After reading Pat the Terrierman’s excellent bit of investigative reporting we have serious questions regarding Dyne Immune LLC and the Rabies RAPID test. Please go here for more.
Please note that our skepticism does not extend to GreenPharm and Rabivir.
Today MSNBC reports that Dyne Immune, LLC has released a portable rabies antigen test. The Rabies RAPID(TM) (Rapid Antibody Portable Immunodetection) Screen can reportedly detect the presence of rabies in a saliva sample in 30 minutes.
The test is quicker and far less invasive than the direct fluorescent antibody test (dFA) used since the 1960’s to diagnose rabies in animals. The rabies virus lives in nervous tissue, not blood, so the dFA test is conducted on brain tissue. The test is performed after the animal is dead by putting fluorescently tagged rabies antibodies into the brain tissue sample. The antibodies will bind to any rabies virus antigens present and allow them to be viewed with a fluorescent microscope.
The Rabies RAPID (TM) Screen provides results much more quickly and inexpensively than dFA testing and will also provide animal care professionals with a way to test for rabies in living animals.
“This test can reduce the number of animals destroyed and save doctors and animal control organizations from the costs associated with traditional testing,” said Dyne Immune CEO, Dr. V. James DeFranco, MD. “Most importantly, though, it enables them to screen for rabies and get an answer quickly — and that’s essential when it comes to preventing the infection from spreading.”
Rabies RAPID(TM) Screen detects the virus’ antigen in saliva and indicates a positive result in the low microgram-per-milliliter range. A simple results window in the screening kit indicates within minutes whether an animal is infected with rabies. The test is packaged in a small, lightweight kit that can be used both in the field and in the lab as a primary screening tool.
According to the World Health Organization rabies continues to be a significant health problem in many parts of Asia and Africa. Most of the more than 55,000 human deaths each year occur among children in these parts of the world. Patients in less developed countries aren’t typically able to receive preventative rabies immunoglobulin treatment due to its high price and continuing global shortages.
There is no recognized successful medical treatment for clincial rabies, though the “Milwaukee Protocol” has now saved a few victims. Most victims of the disease die a horrible death in their homes and many of these cases are never officially diagnosed or reported. An inexpensive, rapid, accurate way to test animals for the disease might help prevent some of these deaths.
It appears that while the test is commercially available it is still in the beta test process. The company includes the disclaimer: “A negative result does not guarantee that rabies is not present,” on their website. They are currently soliciting qualified professionals to try and evaluate the test, free of charge.
In other rabies-related news, last month scientists at the South African company GreenPharm won an award for work that may lead to safer, cheaper treatment for people bitten or scratched by rabid animals. As noted above, the high cost of rabies antibodies makes them difficult to obtain in developing countries. GreenPharm is using genetically modified tobacco to produce the rabies antibody drug Rabivir. Company representative say that not only will Rabivir be less expensive than traditional antibody treatments, it will also be safer. The rabies antibody drugs now used are derived from human or equine antibodies which can be contaminated with potentially fatal pathogens such as hepatitis, “especially in Africa where serious blood-borne infectious diseases are prevalent”.
The drug is still in the animal testing phase. We hope it meets expectations. The combination of quick, inexpensive screening and affordable antibody treatment could help make the heart-breakingly high number of people who die of rabies each year a thing of the past.