UK

Briton dies from rabies after cat bite in Morocco

Cat in Morocco Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A cat in Morocco (file picture)

A Briton has died after contracting rabies while on holiday in Morocco, health officials have said.

Public Health England said the victim became infected after being bitten by a cat.

PHE issued a reminder to travellers to avoid coming into contact with animals when in rabies-affected countries.

Rabies is not found in wild or domestic animals in the UK, but five Britons became infected between 2000 and 2017 after "animal exposures abroad".

Some species of bats in the UK can carry a rabies-like virus.

According to the World Health Organization, the disease occurs in more than 150 countries and causes tens of thousands of deaths every year, mainly in Asia and Africa.

It says in up to 99% of cases, domestic dogs are responsible for the transmission of the virus to humans.

The UK government says north African countries such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are among 139 nations where there is a high risk.

'Important reminder'

PHE did not release further details about the Briton's death.

It said that while there was no risk to the wider public, as a precautionary measure, health workers and close contacts of the person who died were being assessed and offered vaccination if necessary.

Rabies is a viral infection that affects the brain and central nervous system. It is passed on through bites and scratches from an infected animal.

There are no documented instances of it being transmitted via human to human contact.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, said: "This is an important reminder of the precautions people should take when travelling to countries where rabies is present."

The last recorded rabies case in Britain was in 2012, after a UK resident was bitten by a dog in south Asia.

What is rabies?

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Electron micrograph of the rabies virus
  • Initial symptoms can include anxiety, headaches and fever
  • As the disease progresses, there may be hallucinations and respiratory failure
  • Spasms of the muscles used for swallowing make it difficult for the patient to drink
  • The incubation period between being infected and showing symptoms is between three and 12 weeks
  • If you are bitten, scratched or licked by an animal you must wash the wound or site of exposure with plenty of soap and water and seek medical advice without delay
  • Once symptoms have developed, rabies is almost always fatal
  • Before symptoms develop, rabies can be treated with a course of vaccine - this is "extremely effective" when given promptly after a bite - along with rabies immunoglobulin if required
  • Every year, more than 15m people worldwide receive a post-bite vaccination and this is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths
  • But effective treatment for rabies is not readily available to those in need
  • Pre-exposure immunisation is recommended for people in certain high-risk occupations and for travellers to rabies-affected, remote areas

Source: Public Health England/World Health Organization

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