6-Year-Old Dies From Rabies After Experimental Treatment, 'Milwaukee Protocol,' Fails

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A pet dog is given the rabies vaccine at a pet show in Taipei on July 29, 2013. Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images

Updated | A 6-year-old in Florida named Ryker Roque has died from rabies despite the use of an experimental protocol to treat the condition.

The boy's father, Henry Roque, confirmed Ryker's death on Sunday to the Today show. According to Roque, Ryker was scratched by a sick bat that Roque had found and then placed in a bucket under the family's porch. The family's pit bull and a cat may also have been infected, the local sheriff's office told the Orlando Sentinel.

Immediately after Ryker was scratched, his father had him wash his hands. That should have decreased the chances of an infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website. However, Ryker was afraid of shots, so his parents didn't get additional treatment. A vaccine against rabies given after people believe they might be exposed to the virus can be life-saving. However, that vaccine will work only if it is administered shortly after a bite or scratch.

By the time he arrived at the emergency room about a week later, Ryker was already "having hallucinations and convulsions," according to the family's GoFundMe page. According to the CDC, "Once a person begins to exhibit signs of the disease, survival is rare." Only 10 people have survived rabies after showing symptoms; most of them had received the vaccine at some point before or after they were diagnosed.

On Friday, the Florida Department of Health confirmed to Newsweek that a case of bat-related rabies had been reported in the state and that the person did not receive post-exposure treatment.

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An Indian veterinary clinic employee prepares a rabies vaccination for a Pomeranian dog in Hyderabad on July 6, 2013. NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images

If it's too late to give an infected person the vaccine, some doctors have tried an experimental treatment called the Milwaukee protocol. Invented in 2004, the treatment requires patients receive drugs while they are in a medically induced coma; a 15-year-old girl from Wisconsin was the first to survive after receiving the treatment, according to New Scientist.

However, one paper criticizing the technique published in 2016 noted the drugs used have changed over time. According to that paper, the treatment has failed more than 30 times. Two of the people in the United States whose survival has been attributed to the protocol in the last 10 years did not have antibodies for the rabies virus in their blood, which may mean they weren't infected with the virus in the first place.

However, it's not like doctors have anything better to try. "We do not have an alternative protocol to put forward for therapy of patients with rabies," the authors wrote.

Wild animals are responsible for the vast majority of rabies cases in the United States; there were more than 5,500 rabid animals identified in 2015. As of 2014, bats accounted for the plurality of rabies cases, according to the CDC. Only one or two people die of rabies in the United States each year. Before Ryker, the last person to die of rabies in the United States was a 65-year-old Virginia woman who was bitten by a dog.

This article has been updated to include more information on the number of rabid animals found in the United States each year.