Briton dies from rabies after cat bite in Morocco

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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 death every year, mainly in Asia and Africa.

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

‘Important reminder’

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

It said that while there is no risk to the wider public, as a precautionary measure, health workers and close contacts of the person who died are 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?

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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
  • Once symptoms have developed, rabies is almost always fatal
  • The disease can be treated with a course of rabies vaccine – this is “extremely effective” when given promptly
  • 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
  • Every year, more than 15m people worldwide receive a post-bite vaccination and this is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths annually

Source: Public Health England/World Health Organization