A British resident has died of rabies after getting bitten by a cat in Morocco, public health officials said on Monday.
Public Health England (PHE) issued a warning Monday to all UK residents after the resident contracted the disease.
While there is “no risk” to the wider public, the victim’s family, friends and involved medical staff are being monitored and provided with vaccinations if necessary, the health agency said.
Rabies, which is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, is an infectious viral disease which affects the brain and central nervous system. Initial symptoms include anxiety, headaches and fever, which can progress into hallucinations and respiratory failure, according to PHE.
The virus is transmitted to humans through animal bites or scratches and can take between three and 12 weeks to begin showing symptoms.
No humans have contracted rabies in the UK from animals — other than bats — for over 100 years, PHE said, adding that the disease does not circulate in wild or domestic animals in the country.
However, five Britons contracted rabies abroad from animals between 2000 and 2017.
PHE used the incident to remind residents of the risks when traveling abroad.
“This is an important reminder of the precautions people should take when traveling to countries where rabies is present,” the head of immunizations at PHE, Mary Ramsay, said in a statement.
“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.”
If treated quickly after being exposed to a rabid animal, a vaccine course is “extremely effective at preventing the disease,” the agency said.
Geoffrey Smith, head of the pathology department at the University of Cambridge, said that rabies is one of the few diseases on which a vaccine can be effective after infection.
“But this depends on how soon this is done and also where the patient is bitten,” Smith said.
“After a bite on the foot, there is more time to vaccinate before the virus reaches the brain by traveling along nerve cells, than if one was bitten on the back of the neck.”
Rabies occurs in more than 150 countries and territories worldwide.
Each year, over 59,000 people die of rabies — with poor and disadvantaged populations affected most when there is limited access to healthcare.
An estimated 95% of instances occur in Africa and Asia, according to the World Health Organization, with over 99% of cases due to dog bites.
Smith from the University of Cambridge also explained that it’s not just dogs and cats that can be rabies carriers.
“Virtually all mammals can be infected by rabies virus and a large reservoir is in bats,” he said.