Vaccine 'came too late' for Briton who died of rabies after cat bite in Morocco

November 12, 2018  

Vaccines are effective if provided promptly after exposure to rabies, but the symptoms are fatal if allowed to fully develop.

18:43, UK,
Monday
12
November
2018

A Briton who died from rabies after being bitten by a cat in Morocco did not receive the needed vaccine “until it was too late”, it has emerged.

Public Health England (PHE) revealed news of the death earlier alongside a renewed warning to travellers over 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).

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“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 and respiratory failure, potentially followed by death.

It has been all but eliminated in much of the western world, including Australia and New Zealand, but is more common in countries in Asia and Africa.

People travelling there are advised to consider vaccination, particularly if they intend to stay for at least a month or if they are planning activities which put them at increased risk of coming into contact with animals with rabies.

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