A woman died of rabies after she was bitten by a puppy during a yoga retreat in India. Here's what travellers should know about the risk.

PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty ImagesA bite from a puppy (not the one pictured) left a Virginia woman infected with rabies.
  • A Virginia woman died of rabies after sustaining a dog bite during a trip to India, according to a new report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • The woman was not vaccinated against rabies and sought no medical treatment after the bite.
  • Canine rabies was eliminated from the US in 2004 but still exists in 122 countries, according to the report.
  • The CDC recommends travellers stay away from animals while abroad, but if you are bitten, you should wash the wound thoroughly and see a doctor for additional treatment as soon as possible.
  • Some travellers may also benefit from pre-travel rabies vaccines.

A Virginia woman died of rabies after she sustained a puppy bite during a trip to India in 2017. Now, her case has been detailed in a new report published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The Daily Progress reported Friday.

According to the CDC report, the 65-year-old woman travelled to India for a yoga retreat from late January to early April 2017. She was bitten by a puppy outside of her hotel and washed the wound with water, but underwent no further medical treatment.

In early May, the woman sought treatment for arm pain and was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. The next day, she was evaluated at a hospital for shortness of breath, anxiety, insomnia, and trouble swallowing. She was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication.

But on May 8, the woman became “progressively agitated and combative,” the report said. That’s when hospital workers asked about potential exposure to animals. The woman’s husband told doctors about the puppy bite.

The woman’s condition continued to deteriorate, and testing later confirmed she was infected with rabies. On May 21, the family opted to “withdraw advanced medical support,” the report said. The woman then died.

Canine rabies was eliminated in the US, but still exists across the world

Dog kennelfotocelia/ iStockDogs are the main source of human rabies deaths worldwide.

Rabies is a preventable viral disease that infects the nervous system. It’s typically transmitted to people through bites from infected animals – it spreads via their saliva. Once symptoms show up, the disease is “almost always” fatal, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO.)

Worldwide, dogs are responsible for most rabies deaths in humans, the WHO adds, but rabies is preventable in dogs with vaccination.

Read more: A man’s legs and hands were amputated after a dog lick gave him a serious illness – here’s what to know about it

In fact, canine rabies was eliminated in the US in 2004, according to the case report, but still exists in 122 countries. And, since 2008, nine people (including the Virginia woman) have died from rabies in the US after they were exposed to the virus while travelling abroad, the report added.

There are also effective human vaccines against rabies, and with “prompt and appropriate medical care,”rabies in humans is also considered 100% preventable, according to the CDC.

The CDC says travellers should immediately wash and seek medical treatment for animal bites

In its advice for travellers, the CDC recommends avoiding animals, and never trying to pet, feed, or handle unfamiliar ones. That’s because the only way to prevent rabies (other than getting a vaccine) is to avoid animal bites, scratches, and licks in the first place.

If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, you should immediately and thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water and see a doctor as soon as possible for treatment, which includes the human rabies vaccine. This post-exposure treatment can prevent the development of rabies symptoms and death, according to the WHO.

Every year, more than 15 million people get the rabies vaccines after animal bites, and it’s estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths, the organisation adds.

Some travellers may benefit from pre-trip rabies vaccines

A doctor might recommend that you get a rabies vaccine before travelling if you’re staying for a long time in an area with high rabies risk or if your trip will involve outdoor activities that could expose you to animals, according to the CDC. Providers might also suggest the vaccine for people whose jobs could put them at risk while travelling, like veterinarians, and for children, who tend to play with animals.

The CDC’s case report concluded that the Virginia woman’s case – and other reports of rabies acquired while travelling – highlight the importance of getting a thorough pre-travel health consultation with a doctor.

Read more about animal safety for travellers at the CDC’s website.


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