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Rabies.

A word that evokes images of maddened creatures, foam dripping from their lips, lunging at innocent victims -- which, by biting, they transform into still more rabid monsters. The darkest tales of supernatural horror mankind has ever created come directly from the ghastly behavior of rabid animals, but the power of those tales comes from a very real virus, a deadly scourge known to us from the earliest days of humanity, hundreds of thousands of years ago -- and to mammals in general perhaps all the way back to the Eocene, the dawn of the modern era, not long after the inception of the Cenozoic, 65 million years ago. Any mammal can get it, and can transmit it to other mammals with a bite. We have justifiably lived in terror of it from the beginning of the hominid line.

The most fatal virus known to science, rabies kills virtually 100% of all untreated victims once the virus makes its home in their brains. Unlike almost all viruses, which, once in the body, travels through it via the bloodstream, rabies, once given entrance into the mammalian body, determinedly heads for the nearest nerves and uses them as highways to travel to the brain. A zoonose zoonose that spreads avidly to humans from other mammals, including, in rare cases, other human beings, throughout history rabies has been a symbol of savage madness and inhuman possession, giving rise to stories of werewolves and vampires. But today, the history of rabies can help shed light on the wave of emerging diseases, from AIDS to SARS to avian influenza and a host of others that we now know originate in populations of nonhuman creatures.

In Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart four thousand years of the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies. From Greek mythology to the Walking Dead, from Louis Pasteur's heroic laboratory work to today's search for a lifesaving treatment for rabies, the authors of Rabid have created a fresh, fascinating, and often profoundly entertaining look at one of humanity's most ancient and fearsome enemies, viral rabies.

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