A woman who is seriously ill with rabies in the UK was turned away from hospital twice before she was diagnosed, according to reports.

The woman, said to be a grandmother in her 50s, went to Darent Valley A&E unit in Kent twice, but was not admitted.

The hospital said that since the UK was rabies free staff had not considered it as a possible diagnosis.

The woman who lives in South London was bitten by a dog while abroad, and is now receiving hospital treatment at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in central London.

The Sun reported that the woman was of Indian origin and was in India with her husband when she was bitten by a puppy.

But the Kent NHS Trust said that the "information supplied" did not lead them to think such an incident had occurred.

In a statement it said: "The UK is rabies free. If a patient does present at hospital with vague symptoms a doctor is unlikely to consider rabies as a diagnosis unless the patient highlights wild animal contact in an at-risk country.

"The hospital responded to the information supplied by the patient at the time."

The hospital added five staff members are being vaccinated "as a precautionary measure".

"We have launched an investigation into the circumstances around this lady's attendance at the emergency department and we are working closely with the Health Protection Agency," it added.

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

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of the HPA for London, said: "It is important to stress that there is no risk to the general public as a result of this case or to patients and visitors at the hospital where the patient is receiving treatment.

"Despite there being tens of thousands of rabies cases each year worldwide, there have been no documented laboratory confirmed cases of human-to-human spread.

"Therefore the risk to other humans or animals from a patient with rabies is considered negligible.

Professor David Brown, a rabies expert at the HPA, said only four cases of human rabies acquired from dogs have been identified since 2000, all from animals abroad.

He said: "Rabies is an acute viral infection which is extremely rare in the United Kingdom.

"It is essential to get health advice if you are travelling to countries where rabies is common or if you know you will be working with animals."

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