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Hospital: Humboldt County girl survives rabies without vaccination

SACRAMENTO — An 8-year-old girl who contracted rabies — likely from a feral cat — is a rare survivor of the infection without having received the life-saving vaccine, hospital officials said Sunday.

Precious Reynolds of Willow Creek in Humboldt County, was treated by pediatricians at the University of California Davis Children's Hospital in coordination with federal and California health officials, the hospital said in a statement.

The hospital said she's the third person in the United States known to have recovered from the virus without having antiviral inoculations immediately after becoming infected. The Associated Press was unable to independently confirm the number, and a message left with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Sunday night was not immediately returned.

She contracted the disease in April but it was not clear exactly when, which was why she did not receive the usual series of shots that follow animal bites and keep humans from developing symptoms, the statement said.

Health officials believe she got it from a feral cat she encountered near her elementary school in rural Humboldt County in northern California, but an infected animal could not be found.

Tests in early May revealed she had the disease after Precious's grandmother took her to the doctor because of flu-like symptoms that grew so serious her grandmother said they began to resemble polio.

Nurses at the hospital thought her chances were slim when she arrived at the pediatric intensive care unit.

"None of us thought she would leave the PICU," Krystle Realyvasquez, a nurse who cared for Precious, said in the statement. "When she did it was unbelievable."

The first such survivor — Jeanna Giese of Wisconsin — contracted the infection when she was bitten by a bat in 2004 when she was 14. Giese graduated from college last month.

The hospital said doctors followed the protocol first established with Giese. Precious was placed in a drug-induced coma as she received anti-viral medications.

She spent two weeks in intensive care undergoing the treatments, and immediately showed that her immune system was strong. She was then moved to the hospital's general pediatric unit, where she remained Sunday.

"From the very beginning, Precious had a very rapid, robust immune response to her infection, which is a significant contributor to why she survived," Dr. Jean Wiedeman, leader of the pediatric team, said in the statement. "She is truly a fighter."

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