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Vitamin C and rabies

Posted by hemila on 04 Feb 2011 at 06:58 GMT

Bourhy et al. commented that cheap and innovative approaches for the treatment of rabies are urgently required (1).

In 1975, Banic reported that vitamin C prevented rabies in the guinea pig (2). Guinea pigs were inoculated intramuscularly with an emulsion of rabbit brain containing rabies virus. Starting at 6 h after inoculation, 100 mg/kg of vitamin C was injected intramuscularly twice a day for 7 days. In the control group, 70% (35/50) of the animals died of rabies, compared with 35% (17/48) in the vitamin C group (Fisher test P[2-t] = 0.001).

Vitamin C is usually considered important only for the prevention of scurvy. However, dozens of animal studies found that vitamin C increased resistance to diverse viral and bacterial infections, and protected against the toxicity of several purified bacterial toxins (3). Five controlled trials found benefit of vitamin C against pneumonia (4), and one found that intravenous vitamin C decreased the case fatality rate of tetanus (5). Thus, the physiological effects of vitamin C seem to be more diverse than the prevention of scurvy.

Literature on vitamin C and rabies is scarce. Nevertheless, Stantic-Pavlinic et al. (6) reported that rabies vaccine led to a substantially greater increase in interferon alpha levels in humans who had been administered 2 g of vitamin C at the time of first vaccination, compared with the control group. This suggests a mechanism whereby vitamin C might influence rabies, yet vitamin C also has many other effects on the immune system (3).

Although the effect of vitamin C against rabies in the guinea pig does not directly imply that vitamin C is beneficial for humans, further research is needed on this cheap and innovative approach for treating rabies.

1 Bourhy H, Dautry-Varsat A, Hotez PJ, Salomon J.
Rabies, still neglected after 125 years of vaccination.
PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2010;4:e839.
2 Banic S. Prevention of rabies by vitamin C. Nature 1975;258:153-4.
3. Hemilä H. Do vitamins C and E affect respiratory infections? [Dissertation]
Helsinki, Finland: University of Helsinki, 2006 pp. 5-9, 105-121. Available at:
4. Hemilä H, Louhiala P. Vitamin C for preventing and treating pneumonia.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2007;(1):CD005532.
5. Hemilä H, Koivula TT. Vitamin C for preventing and treating tetanus.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008;(2):CD006665.
6. Stantic-Pavlinic M, Banic S, Marin J, Klemenc P.
Vitamin C - a challenge in management of rabies.
Swiss Med Wkly 2004;134:326-327.

No competing interests declared.