Vaccine 'came too late' for Briton who died of rabies after cat bite in Morocco
Public Health England (PHE) revealed news of the death earlier alongside a renewed warning to travellers as to the risk of the potentially fatal disease, although no other details about the case were revealed.
But according to Professor Jimmy Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the victim experienced a delay in getting the treatment they needed.
Vaccines are extremely effective if provided promptly after exposure to rabies, but the symptoms are always fatal if allowed to fully develop.
Professor Whitworth said the victim “in this tragic case” was bitten just a few weeks ago.
“My understanding is that this is somebody who had contact with a cat that was behaving abnormally and sought care, I believe in Morocco and in the UK, but unfortunately didn’t receive vaccination until it was too late,” he said.
“The typical time interval (for symptoms to appear) is two to three months, so you do have enough time (to seek care).
“But it can be as short as a week and that’s why seeking prompt care and getting vaccination is so important.”
The victim is believed to have sought help in both Morocco and the UK, but it is not known where they experienced the delay in what Professor Whitworth described as a “high stakes” situation.
He said that such cases were proof as to why it was so important for health workers to be aware of the potentially deadly impact of rabies, which is extremely rare in the UK.
There has been just one case of a human obtaining the disease from a native animal since 1902, when in 2002 a person was bitten by an infected bat in Scotland.
The last recorded rabies case in Britain was in 2012, after a UK resident was bitten by a dog – the most common source of infection in most parts of the world – in South Asia.
It does not pass between humans, but health workers and those close to the victim of the Morocco case are being assessed and offered vaccination where necessary.
PHE describes rabies as a “very serious viral infection”, which affects the brain and central nervous system, but initial symptoms can be as unsuspecting as a headache.
As the disease progresses, there may be hallucinations, respiratory failure, and spasms of the muscles used for swallowing that can make it difficult to drink.
Once fully developed, the symptoms are always fatal.
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