Rabies mistake prompts hospital to launch an investigation

Rob Hastings
Thursday 24 May 2012 22:46 BST

A hospital in Kent has launched an investigation into how a woman suffering from the deadly disease rabies was apparently turned away from its emergency department twice before her case was confirmed.

The patient, who has not been named but is believed to be a grandmother in her 50s, is reported to have visited Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford twice before being diagnosed.

The last British person to suffer from rabies died in 2005. And as the disease is not present in the UK's animal population, meaning human cases are extremely rare, a spokesman for the hospital stressed that it was understandable doctors might not identify it without being told the patient had been bitten by a dog abroad, which is the most common cause.

"The UK is rabies free," he said. "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." Dr Ron Behrens of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said the prognosis for people infected with rabies, which induces a fear of water, was "bleak".

Only a couple of sufferers are known to have ever survived the encephalitis stage of the disease, when it reaches the brain.

It is transferred through saliva from the bite of an infected animal, and though there are no known cases of human-to-human infection, the hospital said it had vaccinated people who had come into contact with the sufferer as a precaution. Globally, around 55,000 people are estimated to die from the disease every year.

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