Briton dies from rabies while in Morocco after being bitten by cat

A Briton has died after contracting rabies (Picture: Getty)

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

Public Health England (PHE) issued a warning to travellers after the UK resident contracted the disease after being bitten by a rabid cat.

It is understood the person was bitten a few weeks ago but did not receive a vaccine until it was too late.

It is believed that the Briton sought care both in Morocco and when at home after being bitten.

Professor Jimmy Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “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.

“I believe that the cat bit this person a few weeks ago.”

He added: “The typical time interval (for symptoms to appear) is two to three months, so you do have enough time (to seek care).

“But it can be as short as a week and that’s why seeking prompt care and getting vaccination is so important. In this tragic case the person didn’t get the vaccine in time.

The Briton was bitten by a cat in Morocco (File picture: Getty)

PHE said there is “no risk” to the wider public but as a precautionary measure, health workers and close contacts have been offered vaccination if necessary.

How big a problem is rabies?

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.

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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.”

Rabies is passed on through infected animals through injuries such as bites or scratches. It does not spread from human to human.

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The infection is not found in UK animals expect in a small number of wild bats.

There have been no documented cases of humans acquiring rabies in animals other than bats since 1902. But a single case of human rabies acquired from a bat was reported in 2002 in Scotland.

People who travel to an area of the world where rabies is common – such as Asia or Africa – are advised to consider vaccination.

PHE said that travellers to rabies-affected countries should avoid contact with dogs, cats and other animals wherever possible.

More country specific information on rabies is available through the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s website.

What is rabies?

  • Rabies is a rare but serious infection which is almost always fatal when symptoms appear. It is usually caught from the bite or scratch from an infected animal.
  • Animals in the UK are not affected apart from a small number of wild bats. It is found throughout the world but is more common in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.
  • Rabies is a “zoonotic” infection of the brain and nerves. Zoonotic means that the disease can be transferred from animals to people. It does not spread from human to human.
  • Symptoms usually appear between three and 12 weeks after becoming infected. Initial symptoms include fever, headache, feeling unwell and in some cases discomfort at the site of the bite.
  • Other symptoms appear a few days later, including the signature sign of the disease – producing lots of saliva or frothing at the mouth.
  • Additional symptoms can include confusion, hallucinations, muscle spasms, difficulty swallowing or breathing and paralysis.
  • According to NHS Choices, the infection is almost always deadly once symptoms appear, but treatment before this is very effective. There’s also a vaccine for people at risk of being infected.