A woman who contracted rabies while abroad died in hospital in Belfast last night, her family said.

Lisa McMurray, who was in her 30s, had been in a critical condition in the intensive care unit of Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital since the condition was diagnosed last month. She had been in Africa a number of times over the last couple of years, but began to feel unwell after being home for several months.

It is believed Ms McMurray, who worked at the Cats Protection NI Adoption Centre at Dundonald, may have been infected as far back as December 2006 while working in an animal sanctuary in South Africa. She had been scratched while separating two dogs and one of the animals had to be put down after it started foaming at the mouth.

Rabies is extremely rare in the United Kingdom – there have been only 23 cases since 1946, the last in 2005, and all infections were acquired abroad. The last case of human rabies involving a dog bite suffered in the UK was more than a century ago in 1902.