Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Most Fatal Virus

By Shirley Raye Redmond

Often, after reading a particularly interesting nonfiction book, I feel the need to add something I learned to my fictional story-in-progress. For instance, while writing Amanda’s Beau, I happened to read, Rabid, A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. Grim reading, to be sure, and I don’t recommend curling up with this book before bedtime. Rabies is the most fatal virus known to science. The real-life anecdotes recorded in this book make the drama in Old Yeller appear tame. However, I could not resist adding my own bit of drama (and trauma!) to my novel by having my heroine encounter a rabid skunk among the Anasazi ruins in Aztec, New Mexico.

Rabies is a serious disease that infects dogs and other mammals, such as skunks, ferrets, wolves and cats. Only mammals can get rabies. If a rabid dog or other infected animal bites a person, that person will get rabies too.

This disease is caused by a virus that is present in the saliva and mouth of the infected animal. It infects the body through a bite from a rabid animal. You cannot get rabies by petting an animal, but you may get it from a scratch if the animal, such as a cat, licks its paw before it scratches you. Once inside the body, the virus infects the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord.

An animal with rabies becomes antisocial and refuses food. It acts nervous and restless. It snarls and growls at imaginary objects. Soon it becomes vicious and will chase and bite other animals and even people. Finally, the animal becomes paralyzed and dies. Some animals don’t become vicious. They are unable to swallow and act as if they are choking on a bone or other object. Soon, its body becomes paralyzed, and the animal dies.

A person bitten by a rabid animal needs to see a doctor as soon as possible. The wound should be washed with strong soap and water. In the 1950s, people who had been bitten by a rabid animal received 23 shots in the abdomen. Today, a person only needs six shots over a one-month period. One shot is given near the bite and the rest are given in the arm.

Have you ever read a nonfiction book and later introduced the subject into one of your novels? I’d love to hear about it.

Shirley Raye Redmond


  1. We don't have rabies here in Australia. Thank goodness for very, very strict quarantine laws.

    A very interesting post thank you.

  2. On of my son's friends had to do the rabies treatment in high school.. What a terrible experience! Thank you for more information I found it very interesting :)