It’s always amazing to me when someone makes what might be a major medical advance merely by thinking outside the box, introducing a slight shift in their approach to a problem and ending up disproving the way that we physicians have tried to deal with that problem for decades. The latest example of this is the tale of Jeanna Giese, the rabies survivor in Wisconsin, only the sixth known person to survive rabies and the first person known to survive without having received antibody and vaccine shots prior to the onset of symptoms.

Rabies kills by rapidly proliferating in the brain, causing major central dysfunction and allowing the virus to spread to other vital organs like the heart. Most therapies to date have mirrored those we use for other infectious diseases — using medicines and antibodies that aim to limit the proliferation of the virus so that the body’s natural immune defenses can keep up with, and defeat, the infection. The medical team taking care of the Giese added a second approach to her treatment — they surmised that another way to reduce the replication of the virus might be by reducing the metabolic rate of the tissue in which it had set up shop, the central nervous system. Of course, there’s really only one reliable way to reduce the metabolic rate of the central nervous system: putting someone into a coma. Giese’s medical team did this with sedatives and anesthetics, and at least in her case, it appears to have allowed her immune system and the antivirals to catch up and clear the virus from her system.

It’s too early to say if this will work in all cases, but apparently the Centers for Disease Control has taken note and is interested in more formal testing of the method. And if it pans out, it will be the kind of major medical advance that leaves us all shaking our heads, wondering why we all were so blinded to the simpleness of it all.