If There's A Raccoon in Your Bed, Call A Doctor

When I heard that a raccoon attacked a Massachusetts woman in her bed, I immediately assumed the raccoon to rabid--and it was. 

As a virus that infects the brain, rabies has the ability to change its host's behavior. As rabies is spread via saliva, it makes perfect sense, in evolutionary terms, for the virus to prompt some change in behavior in order to facilitate saliva exposure in potential new hosts. Hence, rabid animals "foam at the mouth" and become aggressive. See the book Rabid for a great history of the disease.

A raccoon's natural proclivity is to avoid human contact. For a raccoon, the most commonly reported wildlife reservoir for rabies in the US, to pounce into a bed and attack a woman is an unequivocal behavior change consistent with rabies. 

In the US, human deaths from rabies seldom occur given the ability of those exposed to access effective post-exposure prophylaxis which consists of the vaccine (thank you Louis Pasteur) and immune globulin. For those who develop symptoms, a fatal course is to be expected (unless the Milwaukee Protocol is initiated and is efficacious). 

Among the pantheon of infectious diseases, rabies has a special place in my heart as it was the children's book detailing Pasteur's work to develop the rabies vaccine that first captured my interest in the field.