Audiobook Review: Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus

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WHAT? Is what Penny asked me when I told her I was listening to this book. Yes! I saw the title at the WPL available on audio and it sounded soooooooo interesting that I had to have a listen. It was definitely a fascinating read.

Co-authors Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy do a fantastic job tracing this deadly virus historically, socially, literarily (is that a word??), scientifically and culturally. There were also real life survival case studies that had me on the edge of my seat more than any old horror novel would have!

Fascinating points that I learned about rabies while listening to this book:

1. The scientific name of the virus is Lyssavirus rabies– named after Lyssa, the Greek goddess of animal rage. This viral infection goes back a loooong way!

2. Any mammal can contract rabies and (even in this day and age) it is most commonly spread by unvaccinated dogs.

tumblr_m34i0w9JTA1r6etako1_5003. The rabies virus is shaped like a bullet and lives in the saliva and brain of infected mammals; it is not found in the blood.

4. Foaming at the mouth and fear of water (hydrophobia) are actual symptoms for all victims of rabies (humans and animals). An additional symptom for males only = multiple, spontaneous ejaculations until death. WHAT??

5. Once the symptoms have manifested rabies is 100% fatal.

6. Approximately 55 000 people die of rabies every year (mostly in Africa and Asia).

image7. Most commonly known as the SADDEST DISNEY MOVIE EVER, Old Yeller was based on a book by Fred Gipson about a frontier boy’s pet dog who is bitten by a rabid wolf. The Disney writers originally changed the ending and saved the dog but Walt Disney, himself, vetoed the idea. He realized that it would be a much more powerful story if Yeller died. Who didn’t freaking BAWL THEIR EYES OUT at this movie!!??!!

8. It is suspected that the “madness” that killed Edgar Allen Poe was actually a rabies infection; he showed all of the signs and symptoms.

9. The only way for a vet to officially diagnose rabies is to have a brain tissue sample sent to the public health lab for testing. It is a very grizzly process that involves the decapitation of the animal in question.

10. In literature the first stories of werewolves, zombies and even vampires (non-sparkly type) may have been born out of the actions of rabid humans.

Rabies211. Louis Pasteur’s first human test subject for the rabies vaccine was a young boy who had been bitten repeatedly by a rabid dog. His frantic mother brought him to Pasteur’s laboratory and he reluctantly took him in (Pasteur was not a doctor and could have gotten in huge trouble by doing this). The boy, Joseph Meister, spent months at the facility under constant observation and treatment and never did contract the disease. He was so grateful to Pasteur for saving his life that he became the care taker of the Pasteur Institute when he grew up. One story tells how Joseph bravely kept some Nazis from desecrating Pasteur’s tomb during WWII.

12. The island of Bali was rabies free until 2008 when a man smuggled his pet dog that was (unknowingly) infected with rabies to the island. A nationwide epidemic broke out because of this one dog and rabies continues to haunt Bali to this day. The organization BAWA started vaccination and educational programs to help eradicate the virus and they are hoping to be rabies free by 2015.

I found that reading this book made me consider the growing trend of anti-vaccination campaigns. We have come a long way in medicine, disease treatment and prevention– so much so that generations have never experienced the terror, devastation and death toll that a little virus can cause. Years of vigilant vaccination have only kept these viruses at bay but we should not be so complacent as to think that they are not just not lying dormant until they can infect again. I know many educated people who do not get their pets vaccinated for rabies and, even worse, some who refuse to have their children vaccinated for diseases that have the power to kill. We are beginning to see some of the diseases that were thought to have been eradicated (with the help of vaccination) returning– I just hope it does not come to the point of a full-blown viral epidemic before people wake up and realize that vaccines save more lives than cause harm. Seriously, better to be safe than DEAD! 

Rabid was narrated by Jonny Heller who told the story in a creepy, almost macabre voice worthy of the latest suspense/thriller. It kept the story moving even during its most scientific of descriptions. Great job! Absolutely fascinating! 4 stars from me!