(HealthDay News) – Remote communities in the Peruvian Amazon at risk of rabies infection show signs of exposure to the virus, suggesting that exposure may not always be fatal.

Amy T. Gilbert, PhD, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and colleagues tested sera from 63 individuals living in two communities in the Peruvian Amazon for signs of rabies exposure. The communities were reported to be at risk of vampire bat exposure.

The researchers found that seven individuals (11%) had rabies virus neutralizing antibodies (rVNA). In the sera of three individuals, rabies virus ribonucleoprotein immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies were detected, with two of these individuals also seropositive for rVNA. Rabies virus IgM was detected in one individual who had no evidence of IgG antibodies or rVNA. Only one individual with rVNA reported having received a rabies vaccination and six individuals reported being bitten by bats.

“Nearly all rabies exposures that proceed to clinical infections are fatal. However, our results open the door to the idea that there may be some type of natural resistance or enhanced immune response in certain communities regularly exposed to the virus,” Gilbert said in a statement. “A series of injections, known as post-exposure prophylaxis, remains the best way to prevent infection after exposure to the virus. But these results mean there may be ways to develop effective treatments that can also help save lives in areas where rabies remains a persistent cause of death.”

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