24/05/2012 03:14 BST | Updated 24/05/2012 10:45 BST

UK Grandmother Catches Rabies From Dog

A grandmother diagnosed with rabies is being held in an isolation room in a London hospital, in the first case of the disease England has seen for nearly seven years.

The potentially fatal disease was confirmed in a patient, believed to be a woman in her 50s who'd been bitten by a dog in South Asia

The patient, who has not been named, is receiving hospital treatment and all relevant contacts had been followed up, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said, stressing there was no risk to the public.

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

The woman had been turned away by doctors three times before rabies was confirmed. The Kent NHS Trust said five staff members were now being vaccinated. "Although there are no cases of rabies being passed by human-to-human contact, the five members of staff that came into close contact with the patient are being vaccinated as a precautionary measure."

The patient is being treated at London's Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

A spokeswoman said: "We would like to reassure our patients, visitors and staff there is no risk to them as a result of this case."

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.

"However to take every possible precaution, family members and healthcare staff who had close contact with the patient since they became unwell - which is when they are infectious - have been assessed and offered vaccination if appropriate."

rabid dog

A dog in South Asia

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

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.

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.

"All travellers to a rabies-endemic country should avoid contact with cats, dogs and other animals wherever possible as you cannot be certain that there is no risk.

"Rabies vaccine is extremely effective at preventing rabies if you are bitten even when this is given some time after an exposure. If you do not seek medical treatment while abroad, you should still seek it when you come home."

The symptoms of rabies are initially flu-like, and the disease can lead to delirium, terror, hallucinations, paranoia, and frothing at the mouth.

As a matter of routine, if the woman had any pets at home tests would have been carried out on them to check the virus had not been passed on, a spokesman from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.