Grandmother’s death prompts launch of guide to rabies

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A GUIDE to help healthcare workers spot rabies cases has been published after a grandmother died from the disease.

The woman, believed to be in her 50s, was reportedly turned away twice by doctors at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, Kent, before she was finally diagnosed.

She died at London’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases after she suffered a dog bite while on holiday in south-east Asia. The case was one of two handled by medics within days. A woman from Leeds also sought treatment after being bitten by a dog while abroad, though there was no connection with the case in London.

Yesterday, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) launched an online training module for public health professionals and healthcare workers who deal with patients who might have been exposed to the disease.

The HPA said there is a “lack of awareness” among clinicians and public health practitioners about rabies exposure risk assessments and when and how to use the post-exposure vaccine.

Dr David Brown, head of the rabies service at the HPA, said: “It’s important for public health professionals and clinicians to know how to assess patients who have been in contact with animals where there is a potential rabies risk.

“We hope that this new HPA module will enhance their ability to assess this risk and help healthcare workers to easily access post-exposure prophylaxis for patients.”

Rabies is usually transferred through saliva from the bite of an infected animal, with dogs being the most common transmitter of rabies to human beings.

More than 55,000 people worldwide are estimated to die from the disease every year, with most cases occurring in developing countries – particularly those in South and South-East Asia.

Last year, the HPA said that since 2000, three times as many patients sought the post-exposure vaccine.

Dr Brown added: “It’s also important for UK travellers to remember that there is a risk of rabies through contact with infected animals, particularly dogs, in countries where the disease has not been eliminated.

“There are simple precautions travellers can take to avoid being infected such as avoiding contact with all animals, including bats.

“Anyone who has been bitten, scratched or exposed to the saliva or nervous tissue of an animal abroad should clean the wound as soon as possible with soap and water and seek medical advice immediately.

“Post-exposure treatment with vaccine and human rabies immunoglobulin is highly effective in preventing rabies, if given soon after contact with an infected animal,” Dr Brown said.