Each year around the world, rabies results in more than approximately 59,000 deaths– that is nearly one death every 9 minutes. Most deaths are reported from Africa and Asia with almost 50% of the victims being children under the age of 15.
China remains a high-risk region for rabies transmission. During the period from 2006 to 2011, the numbers of deaths due to rabies nationwide in China were 3293, 3303, 2466, 2213, 2048 and 1917, respectively.
The diagnosis of rabies during pregnancy is rare and reports of five newborns surviving have been documented. In a recently published case report in the Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases, we see the case of the sixth newborn survivor in China.
In May 2013, a 25-year-old, 4-month pregnant woman was bitten by a dog on the right instep when wearing slippers and walking on the Xiaoying village road. The place is located 40 km northwest of PingDingShan city, Henan Province, PR China. The patient went to the village health clinic to see a general practitioner because the bite site was bleeding. The nurse disinfected the wound with iodine and alcohol and no measure concerning rabies immunization was taken. Three days later, the wound had healed.
Months later, on November 6, the woman was in the delivery room in Baofeng Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Pingdingshan city. On that night, she felt pain on the right leg as well as agitation and insomnia. On the following day (November 7) at 8:30 a.m., she gave birth to a baby boy in the emergency room by caesarean section. The birth weight of the infant was 2.5 kg and he was healthy according to all relevant indexes. During the procedure, although the woman was shivering, she was conscious and her blood pressure was within the normal range. At 5:00 p.m. on November 7, she started to develop symptoms such as thirst, headache, fear, chest distress, hidrosis and difficulty in swallowing water. The doctor on duty prescribed sedatives for her in order to ameliorate the symptoms. On November 8, manifestations including hydrophobia, vomiting, madness, dysphagia and fear appeared. She was clinically diagnosed with rabies. On November 9, the patient was transferred to the Infectious Diseases Hospital of Henan Province.
On physical examination, the patient had low fever (temperature: 37.5 °C). She was conscious but with intermittent irritability. There was no palpable lymph node. Examination of the cardiovascular and respiratory system was unremarkable. The abdomen was soft and with an operative incision about 10 cm long seen in the hypogastrium. The dressing was dry with no bleeding. The patient was isolated quickly in the hospital. The nurse used diazepam to sedate the patient who was having obvious symptoms of irritability.
One day after the cesarean section, she was given a combination of antibiotics, piperacillin and tazobactam as well as anti-viral drug (ribavirin) to treat the infection. In addition, mannitol was given to reduce intracranial pressure. Moreover, two Chinese medicines, Xuebijing injection (intravenously, 50 mL plus 0.9 % 100 mL saline, two times a day) and Xingnaojing injection (intravenously, 10 mL plus 0.9 % 250 mL saline, two times a day) were given. Xuebijing injection is a complex traditional Chinese prescription consisting of flos Carthamus, radix Paeonia rubra, Chuanxiong rhizoma, radix Salvia miltiorrhiza and radix Angelica sinensis and was noted to help to improve blood microcirculation, to avoid toxin spreading in suppurative infections and ti inhibit release of tumor necrosis factor-α. Xingnaojing injection, which is composed of four medicinal herbs – including artificial musk, synthetic borneol, Curcuma aromatica Salisb. and Gardenia jasminoides J. Ellis – is a well-known traditional Chinese patent medicine (TCPM) and is believed to reduce brain injury and enhance functional recovery after stroke [8, 9].
Despite treatment, the symptoms got progressively worse. The patient frequently spitted saliva and could not lie down because of chest tightness. She was immobilized and receiving intravenous injection of diazepam. Her symptoms did not improve. The family requested discharge against medical advice. At 12:00 p.m. on November 9, the patient died at home in respiratory failure. Her husband and baby boy were diagnosed with class III rabies exposure according to WHO classification (single or multiple transdermal bites or scratches, contamination of mucous membrane with saliva from licks; exposure to bat bites or scratches). At 4:00 p.m. on November 10, the husband and baby received rabies vaccine (Vero cell) by intramuscular injection in a traditional Chinese medical hospital of Baofeng county. Four further doses were given at days 3, 7, 14, and 28. They were free of the disease up to September 30, 2015.
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