Brit dies from rabies after being bitten by cat in Morocco

A cat which has been marked with red dye to show it has received an anti-rabies vaccine. Credit: AP

A British person has died after contracting rabies following a bite from a rabid cat during a trip to Morocco.

Following the death, Public Health England (PHE) issued a warning to travellers, but said there is “no risk” to the wider public from the disease.

However, as a precautionary measure, health workers and close contacts to the deceased have been offered a vaccination if necessary.

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.

“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.

“There is no risk to the wider public in relation to this case but, as a precautionary measure, health workers and close contacts are being assessed and offered vaccination when necessary.”

A dog is injected against rabies in the Philippines. Credit: AP
  • What is rabies?

Rabies is a rare but very serious infection of the brain and nerves.

It is usually caught from the bite or scratch of an infected animal, most often a dog, according to NHS advice.

It does not spread from human to human.

Racoons can carry rabies in some countries. Credit: AP
  • What are the symptoms of rabies?

Without treatment, the symptoms of rabies will usually develop after three to 12 weeks, although they can start sooner or much later than this.

The first symptoms can include:

  • A high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above

  • A headache

  • Feeling anxious or generally unwell

  • Discomfort at the site of the bite

Other symptoms appear a few days later, such as:

  • Confusion or aggressive behaviour

  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things)

  • Producing lots of saliva or frothing at the mouth

  • Muscle spasms

  • Difficulty swallowing and breathing

  • Paralysis (an inability to move)

Some wild bats in the UK carry rabies. Credit: PA
  • Can I get rabies in the UK?

Rabies is found throughout the world, particularly in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.

It is not found in the UK except in a small number of wild bats.

Rabies does not circulate in either wild or domestic animals in the UK, but between 2000 and 2017 five UK residents became infected with rabies after “animal exposures abroad”, according to PHE.

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

There have been no documented cases of humans acquiring rabies in the UK from animals other than bats since 1902.

A single case of human rabies acquired from a bat was reported in 2002 in Scotland after a person was bitten several times.

  • Is rabies always fatal?

Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal. In these cases, treatment will focus on making the person as comfortable as possible.

However, treatment before symptoms appear is very effective.

Treatment for rabies is very effective if it begins before symptoms occur. Credit: PA
  • What should you do if you travel to a country where rabies is common?

Check before travelling if the country you are going to has rabies.

If this is the case, you can get a vaccine from your GP surgery.

Even if you are vaccinated, you still still avoid animals which could give you the disease.

  • What to do if you get bitten or scratched by an animal which could have rabies

Even if you have received the rabies vaccine you should still immediately clean the wound with running water and soap for several minutes, and then disinfect it with an alcohol or iodine-based disinfectant and apply a simple dressing.

Go to the nearest medical centre, hospital or GP surgery as soon as possible and explain that you've been bitten or scratched. If this happens while you are abroad, get local medical help immediately. Do not wait until you have returned to the UK.

If you have already returned to the UK without getting medical advice, it is still a good idea to get help – even if it has been several weeks since you were bitten or scratched.

Post-exposure treatment is nearly 100% effective if it is started before any symptoms of rabies appear.