March 23, 2019 1:20 PM - by Bill Wasik - Subscribe

The most fatal virus known to science, rabies-a disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans-kills nearly one hundred percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. In this critically acclaimed exploration, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart four thousand years of the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies. From Greek myths to zombie flicks, from the laboratory heroics of Louis Pasteur to the contemporary search for a lifesaving treatment, Rabid is a fresh and often wildly entertaining look at one of humankind's oldest and most fearsome foes.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (5 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's like reading a horror movie, only it's all true! Absolute doozy of a book, linking medical fact to ancient myth, rabies is a disease that's been around pretty much forever, and has been infecting and killing humans since forever and our dogs and livestock since we've had dogs and livestock. Of course the history of rabies is linked to the later triumphs of vaccines, but also a degree of complacency. Now that rabies isn't as common as it used to be, it can be difficult to get the vaccine and expensive to pay for it. There's also the story of the one person known to survive the rabies infection, which is otherwise without the vaccine nearly 100% fatal. Maybe read this one during the day with the lights on.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:23 PM on March 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

It sounds like a really interesting book. I grew up in the (rabies free) UK at a time when there was a lot of paranoia about the disease: a visit to a port - even a small out of the way place - would yield up horrific looking notices like these - and there were many equally garish articles in newspapers. When I first went abroad I remember having a distinct fear that any cat or dog - even some placid looking pooch or moggy - could be digging its rabid fangs into me in reward for a friendly stroke. At school there were stories about just how many emergency vaccinations you would need to have plunged into your stomach at short notice if rabies was suspected - and just how HUGE AND PROBABLY BLUNT each syringe would be.

And if you were so foolish to want to bring one of those foreign creatures back home - then it would have to endure 6 months in (expensive )quarantine before it was considered sufficiently pristine to roam around a British back garden.

Of course, the disease was very rare in most parts of Europe at that time - but the government publicity made a huge distinction between the comfort of "disease free" and the doubt of "almost disease free". In more recent years, the policy softened to something more sane (you can currently bring in a pet which you can show had been vaccinated without quarantine) and the old signs at ports are rusting. But people of a certain age remember this period - and I fear that, at some level, it informed their political decisions when it came to "Brexit".
posted by rongorongo at 1:25 AM on March 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

There's a whole section on Britain's rabies paranoia!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:46 AM on March 25, 2019

The public health/epidemiology parts of this book were more up my street than the bits about the virus itself, but what surprised me most was the speculation that rabies may be somewhere in the DNA of werewolf or even vampire legends. I have no idea how plausible that is or isn't, but I'd never made the connection before.

(I also grew up in a place with rabies, though as an adult, I've always been genuinely unsure how much my parents were actually worried about rabies and how much they just wanted to discourage me from begging for a dog.)

(We got the dog.)
posted by jameaterblues at 8:47 PM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

There's a whole section on Britain's rabies paranoia!
[Orders book]
To give foreigners and younger Brits a feel of this, I would direct you to the "Public information films" created by the UK government. Public information films were notorious, in the 70s and 80s, for their succinct, gruesome directness. The rabies films are masterpieces in this regard:
1. "Rabies means death." - Passenger arrives on a Lufthansa flight (unclear if she is German) - with the intention of smuggling her foaming hell cat through the "nothing to declare" aisle at customs.
2. "Rabies Outbreak in Britain" - In which all dogs have to be leashed and muzzled. children run in fear from a slobbering Labrador and the cat show is cancelled. It would be like living in France or something!
3. "Rabies Kills People" - Only the English channel stands between Britain and rabies! - This time the Labrador is a flipping puppy - probably French - and a small child gets those huge, blunt syringes in his stomach after he strokes it.
4. "Rabies Advice" - in which we hear that if you are so much as licked by a filthy foreign dog - you should wash the wound immediately and seek immediate medical attention - in the distant hope that it might not already be too late.
posted by rongorongo at 11:46 PM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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