Animals & Money: New $50 instant rabies test could be a breakthrough

Carol Vinzant

The typical way to figure out if an animal that bit you has rabies is to kill it, cut off its head and express ship it-- unfrozen--to your state health department for a test that will take 10 to 14 days. The state probably won't charge you, but you'll pay shipping costs, spend weeks worrying and--depending on the situation--begin preventive shots that cost $1,500 to $2,500 per person. (Though, on the bright side, they're just shots around the wound, arm or buttocks, no longer the painful stomach injections people scare each other with.)

So, you can see why a $50 test that can detect rabies in an animal's saliva in a half an hour would be such a huge breakthrough. (You can't test rabies by blood.) And that's just what Dyne Immune says they've got. Though it warns that you can't totally trust the negative results: "A negative result does not guarantee that rabies is not present." It did test the procedure at their local animal shelter, where a kitten tested positive, then died the next day.

If this works out, the potential is huge. About 40,000 Americans are treated for exposure to rabies every year. That costs about $80 million. Two or three people die each year, according to the CDC. In 2006, states paid to test 6,400 animals. Only 6% of the animals had rabies, but all had to die for the test. That includes 318 cats and 79 dogs. Only 1% of cats and 0% of dogs tested positive.