BRASILIA (Reuters) - A 15-year-old boy in Brazil recovered from a normally deadly rabies infection, becoming one of a handful of survivors of the virus worldwide and the first in the country, the health ministry said on Friday.
The teenager, who was bitten by a blood-sucking bat in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, was found to be clear of the virus after more than a month of hospital treatment using a combination of drugs.
The case is one of only three known in which a person survived a confirmed rabies infection, the ministry said in a statement. There are five other cases of people surviving suspected rabies infections, a ministry spokesman said.
The virus -- transmitted by infected animals such as dogs, cats or bats through their saliva when they bite, scratch or lick humans -- causes inflammation of the brain and usually leads to death if left untreated.
The ministry said it was investigating why the teenager was not given a rabies vaccine immediately after he was bitten.
He was treated with a combination of antiviral drugs, sedatives and injectable anesthetics, a procedure called the Milwaukee protocol after the U.S. city where it was first successfully applied in 2004.
Doctors at the Oswaldo Cruz University Hospital in the state capital Recife plan to publish details of the Brazilian case in an international medical journal. They did not rule out some lasting damage to the boy's motor functions.
Brazil hopes to eradicate rabies transmitted to humans by domesticated animals such as cats and dogs by 2010 through a vaccination campaign for pets.
The number of recorded human rabies cases in Latin America's largest country has fallen from 44 in 2005 to nine in 2006 and just one last year.