Death from Rabies Transmitted via Organ Transplant

A Maryland man died in March 2013 from a case of rabies transmitted inadvertently through the kidney transplant he received back in 2011.

The donor had died in 2011 after checking into a health care facility in Florida, and was not diagnosed with rabies. Rabies cases are extremely rare in the United States. From 1995 through 2011 there were only 49 confirmed case of rabies, or an average of less than 3 cases per year.

Because the disease is so rare and the test for rabies takes a relatively long time, organs for donation are not routinely tested for the disease.

The man’s organs went to several recipients in Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Maryland. A Maryland man who received a kidney transplant died from rabies 16 months after the operation. Since the man had no known contact with animals and died from the extremely rare raccoon variant of rabies, the CDC investigated and confirmed that the donor had also been infected with rabies.

This has happened before. There have been several cases around the world where rabies spread via corneal transplant. In 2004, a man in Texas died from what doctors diagnosed as a subarachnoid hemorrhage, but was in fact rabies. Three organ recipients—one who received a liver and two others who each received one of the man’s kidneys—subsequently died from rabies.

The odd thing here is that in the case of the Texas organ donor, each of the organ recipents was admitted to hospital roughly four weeks after the organ transplant with severe symptoms with death following shortly afterward.

But in the case of the Maryland man, the victim didn’t show any rabies symptoms until 16 months after the transplant. As the CDC put it, “Incubation periods exceeding one year are very rare, making this one of the longer rabies incubation periods recorded.”

Blast From the Past: Hans Ruesch and Anti-Research Idiocy

Not much mention of Hans Ruesch is made these days, even on animal rights sites and e-mail lists, but Ruesch’s 1978 book Slaughter of the Innocents had a major influence on the animal rights movement’s anti-research agenda. And since some people still remember him, such as the author of this fawning profile, so it is worth briefly looking at the original idiot who inspired the animal rights movement when it was just beginning to coalesce.

Ruesch’s book was originally published in Italy, before being published in Great Britain and the United States. Ruesch has always claimed the book was “suppressed” by its publisher, Bantam, which let the book go out of print citing poor sales. Bantam also had to be concerned about Ruesch’s habit of libeling people in his books.

Future, which picked up the book after Bantam dropped it, was forced to settle an early libel lawsuit with heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard, for example, over claims Ruesch made in the book that Barnard was mentally ill. Much of Ruesch’s later venom was reserved for animal rights groups and activists whom he deemed were not sufficiently anti-research or whom wouldn’t simply republish Ruesch’s nonsensical claims (Peter Singer won a judgment against Ruesch and the British Anti-Vivisection Association in 1993).

Obviously the space is lacking here for a thorough debunking of all of Ruesch’s claims, but one of his oddest claims will amply give a view into how he thinks. Years before other nutcases would arise to deny that HIV caused AIDS or that AIDS was even a real disease, Ruesch applied the same sort of thinking to rabies. That’s right, Ruesch challenges the idea that rabies even exists, much less that Pasteur developed a vaccine to treat it.

In Slaughter of the Innocent, Ruesch wrote,

Some informed doctors [!] believe that rabies, as a separate and distinguishable disease, exists only in animals and not in man, and that what is diagnosed as rabies is often tetanus (lockjaw), which has similar symptoms. Contamination of any kind of wound can cause tetanus, and it is interesting to note that today in Germany those who get bitten by a dog are regularly given just an anti-tetanus shot. According to Germany’s most authoritative weekly, exactly 5 Germans are supposed to have died of rabies in 20 years (Der Spiegel, 18/1972, p.175). But how can anyone be sure that they died of rabies? Hundreds die of tetanus.

. ..

Pasteur never identified the rabies virus. Today, everything concerning this malady is still more insecure than at Pasteur’s time.

Only one thing is sure: ever since Pasteur developed his “vaccine,” the cases of death from rabies have increased, not diminished.

This sort of nonsense was a bit much for even those animal rights groups that have no problem distorting the history of medical research. A number of groups still recommend Ruesch’s book, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but he’s clearly a marginalized figure within a marginalized movement. In fact animal rights groups generally just don’t talk about rabies since the key role that animal research played in its discovery and treatment.

The current state of rabies vaccination also illustrates the tradeoffs often attendant in the reduce, refine, replace efforts to minimize the number of animals used in medical research. There are currently three vaccines for rabies, two of which are derived from human cell lines and the third — and newest — vaccine which is grown in chicken embryos. Why create a new animal-based vaccine when two perfectly good human cell-based vaccines already existed?

The answer, of course, is money. The chicken embryo-based vaccine is significantly cheaper to produce than the human cell-derived vaccines. Since most cases of rabies occur in the developing world, producing a vaccine as cheaply as possible is paramount to preventing death in the areas where it is still a major problem.

For Ruesch, of course, none of that matters — animal research can’t possibly ever lead to advances in treating human medical conditions, and if the facts contradict that, so much worse for the facts.


The Man Who Cried “The Empress is Naked!”. Guenady, December 2004.

Rabies vaccination. Hans Ruesch.

Recommendation of the Immunization Practices Advisory Committee (ACIP) Rabies Prevention — United States, 1984. MMWR 33(28); 393-402, 407-9, July 20, 1984.

Getting Started. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Undated, Accessed: March 7, 2005.

Ray Greek's Idea of Accuracy

I’ve seen a lot of questions recently about Americans for Medical Advancement’s Ray Greek. Nothing better captures Greek’s particular brand of animal rights idiocy than a review of Sacred Cows and Golden Geese by Michael F.W. Festing,

There are many biographies of Pasteur which describe exactly how he did this by using intra-cerebral inoculations of infected neural tissue to induce rabies in dogs and rabbits, with homogenates of dried spinal cords of rabbits as a vaccine. . . . It took Pasteur five years to develop the vaccine, at which point he had about 50 dogs that were immune to rabies.

. . .[After immunizing dogs, a mother brought a child bit by a rabid dog to Pasteur.] Pasteur and his colleagues examined the child and decided that they dare not refuse to treat him. [The child, Joseph] Meister did not develop the disease, and by 1 March 1886, of 350 patients treated, only one had developed rabies, and she had not been treated until 37 days after she had been bitten. It has been estimated that 40-80% of people bitten by rabid dogs developed rabies, so there is not the slightest doubt that Pasteur had in fact developed a highly effective vaccine, which has since saved many thousands of human lives. The vaccine continued to be used for many years, until replaced by a vaccine prepared in cell cultures.

On page 33 of this book [Ray and Jean Greek’s Sacred Cows and Golden Geese], it states that “. . . Pasteur used animals as pseudo-humans as he attempted to craft a rabies vaccine. He took spinal column tissue of infected dogs and made what he thought was a vaccine. Unfortunately, the vaccine did not work seamlessly and actually resulted in deaths. Yet, this gross failure did somehow did not detract from the reverence for the animal-lab process.” This account is simply not true. The vaccine did not cause any deaths, it failed to cure one person out of the first 350, for a very good reason, and it was highly successful. The book does not even acknowledge that Pasteur did in fact produce a rabies vaccine.

One of the perplexing things about such animal rights distortions is why people like the Greeks try to get away with such obvious falsehoods. Perhaps they believe that more than a century later the average reader of their book is likely unfamiliar with how the rabies vaccine was created, but surely they must be aware that debunking the false history they put forth is trivially easy. As Festing puts it,

Unfortunately, the book [Sacred Cows and Golden Geese] “. . . is a feat of omission and distortion,” to use the words that it uses to describe somebody else’s work. it cannot be described as a serious attempt to show the limitations of animal research, because any facts that conflict with the beliefs of the authors have simply been ignored, or history has conveniently been rewritten. As a way of reducing the use of animals in medical research, I think this book will be counter-productive, because even if the authors do have a few good points to make, its numerous inaccuracies and distortions make it impossible to trust anything that they have written.


Sacred Cows and Golden Geese (Book Review). Michael F.W. Festing, Alternatives to Laboratory Animals 29, pp.617-620, 2001.

HSUS' Michael Fox on 9/11 Attack: Humans Need to Recognize "Our Collective Violence Against Nature"

Yet another prominent animal rights activist has decided to weigh in with a nutty diatribe linking the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States with the plight of animals. This time it’s Michael Fox of the Humane Society of the United States who circulated a brief appeal, “Forms of Violence and the Attack on America.”

After an introductory paragraph in which Fox hopes that the terrorists attacks don’t lead to an ongoing cycle of violence and “a world at war,” Fox offers the following,

Where I do my volunteer work in India, I have killed rabid dogs with compassion, sadness, and precision, and I continue to seek donations from caring people to vaccinate them to prevent outbreaks of this natural horror of rabies. But what vaccine is there to prevent outbreaks of evil from rabid human souls? What are caring people to do? I would say that our faith, hope, and salvation are in simple acts of loving kindness, and in finding less harmful, and often less violent ways of satisfying our needs and wants.

. . .

Our collective violence against Nature and against human nature, from the plight of endangered cultures, wildlife and the environment, to the sufferings of indigenous peoples and of domestic animals, especially in factory farms and commercial laboratories around the world, needs to be acknowledged. Until we find atonement with Nature and all beings, human and non-human, how can human nature find peace an not annihilate all that our better natures embrace?

Apparently animal rights not only offers a way to alleviate suffering, but now we’re all going to find atonement and perhaps even a bit of redemption! All pray at the altar of animal rights.

Aside from Fox’s bizarre pseudo-religious view of Nature, it is odd that he mentions efforts to vaccinate against rabies in the same piece in which he complains about “our collective violence against Nature” and the suffering of animals in “commercial laboratories.”

Vaccination against rabies goes back to the late 19th century and the great French scientist Louis Pasteur. As early as 1804, researchers in Europe had hypothesized that something in the saliva of rabid animals caused the disease to pass into those bitten. In 1879, Victor Galtier became the first man to successfully pass the disease from dogs to rabbits and then from rabbits back to dogs, confirming that rabies was some sort of infectious disease.

Only two years later, researchers working with Pasteur proved that rabies infected the central nervous system and, in numerous animal experiments, proved the disease could be transferred by injecting material from the central nervous system of an infected rabbit into the central nervous system of an uninfected rabbit.

And those researchers noticed something else which would change the face of human health forever. If, instead of injecting material from an infected rabbit to an uninfected rabbit directly, they desiccated the material first and waited a period of days, the virulence of the disease declined rapidly. They had discovered a method whereby animals and humans could be vaccinated against rabies.

Pasteur himself demonstrated that vaccination would work by exposing 50 dogs to his vaccine and then exposing them to the virulent form of rabies. On July 6, 1885, Pasteur did something that no one else in human history had every done — he vaccinated a young boy who had been bitten more than 14 times by a rabid dog. The boy survived, and within 15 months more than 2,500 dog bite victims had received Pasteur’s inoculation.

Pasteur’s discovery was a godsend. The last known case of a human being contracting rabies in France was 1924. Although people still contract and occasionally die from rabies in the United States and other developed countries, their numbers are extremely small (almost all people who die from rabies in the United States do not realize they have been bitten by a rabid animal until the disease has progressed too far to halt the infection).

Thank goodness Pasteur did not have to contend with folks like Fox, who has said not only that, “The life of an ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration,” but that genetic research, which promises to help rid us of other horrible diseases, violates “the sanctity of life and may be regarded as an act of violence.”

If Fox feels he needs to atone for his sins against nature, that’s his businesses, but some of us would prefer life saving medical treatments, like the rabies vaccine which he has no problem using despite its origin, which the animal rights movement is actively trying to prevent. Human society will “find peace” when the animal rights movement gets out of the way and allow biomedical researchers to get on with their jobs.


Forms of violence. Michael W. Fox, Undated e-mail communication, Accessed: September 24, 2001.

General information on diseases: rabies. Aventis Pasteur, Undated, Accessed: September 28, 2001.

New rabies vaccine and anti-addiction drugs show promise in animal tests

Astonishingly, rabies still kills
more than 40,000 people every year around the world, but a new DNA vaccine
being tested in animals may help push that number to 0.

Scientists at the Rocky Mountain
Laboratory in Montana announced that eight monkeys injected with the vaccine
appeared to be completely immune to a wide range of common rabies viruses.
The vaccine causes the lymph node to trigger an immune response which
caused complete immunity to rabies after about 30 days.

The main advantage to the new vaccine,
however, is cost. The DNA vaccine can be produced for a few dollars per
dose, compared to a couple thousand dollars for the traditional vaccine.

In other news, a new drug entering
animal testing provides hope that human addiction to narcotics might be
alleviated. Vigabrantin was originally developed to treat epilepsy, but
animal tests suggest it could be used as a treatment for cocaine addiction.
When administered in rats and primates the drug seemed to prevent or diminish
the “high” the animals got from cocaine. A 90-day clinical trial
to test the drug’s efficacy in human beings is scheduled for this fall.


“DNA rabies vaccine succeeds in animals,” Roger Highfield, The Daily
Telegraph, June 1998.

“Epilepsy drug could block cocaine addiction,” Reuters News Service,
August 5, 1998.