Rabid: It’s a lurid read, but it’s also a horrifying disease

Rabid: It’s a lurid read, but it’s also a horrifying disease

This book showcases the havoc wreaked by rabies throughout history—and the myths and monsters it has engendered in our cultural imagination.

What happens when a tech journalist and a veterinarian with a public health degree get married? They write a book about rabies, of course.

Bill Wasik, a senior editor at Wired who covers technology, media and crowd dynamics, and Monica Murphy, DVM, DACVPM, a University of Minnesota veterinary grad with an MPH from Johns Hopkins, are the minds behind Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus (Viking, 2012).

It’s easy to forget, in our successfully regulated U.S. society where spread of the virus is more or less controlled, how horrifying a disease rabies really is. Wasik and Dr. Murphy remind us of the horror in no uncertain terms. Here’s a sample:

“Once inside the brain, the [rabies] virus works slowly, diligently, fatally to warp the mind, suppressing the rational and stimulating the animal. Aggression rises to fever pitch; inhibitions melt away; salivation increases. The infected creature now has only days to live, and these he will likely spend on the attack, foaming at the mouth, chasing and lunging and biting in the throes of madness—because the demon that possesses him seeks more hosts.”

After a vivid explanation of how rabies manifests in people and animals and how the virus operates within the body, the authors delve into a history of how rabies has been evident in art, literature and history, most likely giving rise to the myths of the werewolf and the vampire, both of which are created through the bite of an infected creature, with an irrevocable outcome. Larger discussions of zoonotic diseases are also sprinkled throughout, along with deep examinations of the mystery and dread surrounding diseases that originate in animals and spread to humans—even from our truest, most loyal companions.

If nothing else, reading Rabid will help drive any tendency to be blasé about rabies right out of a veterinarian or team member’s mind. That rabies vaccine you give multiple times a day is a gift to animal and humankind both. As the authors note, the book is not for the squeamish, but it is fascinating, excellently written and almost impossible to put down. If you double-checked your own rabies titer after reading, we wouldn’t blame you a bit.