Young Woman Dies From Rabies After Playing With Stray Puppy in Philippines

May 11, 2019 Updated: May 11, 2019

A 24-year-old Norwegian woman has died after she contracted rabies from a stray dog while on holidays in the Philippines.

Birgitte Kallestad was on holidays with friends in the Philippines in February. They were riding mopeds when they found a puppy on the side of the road.

Kallestad picked up the puppy, put it in the basket on her moped and brought the puppy back to the resort where she and her friends were staying, her family said in a statement, sighted by the Daily Mail.

She washed and groomed the puppy. Later, Kallestad and her friends played with the dog in the garden.

The puppy had given her minor bites and small scrapes during this time, according to Kallestad’s family. She patched up and sterilized the wounds herself.

Kallestad did not pay any further attention to the scrapes because they were so small, her family indicated in their statement.

But within a day of returning to Norway, Kallestad fell ill. Doctors could not diagnose her situation for a long time, and Kallestad herself did not consider the minor injuries caused by the dog as linked to her condition.

Her family said that she was hospitalized several times as her condition worsened. Eventually, she was being admitted full time. Then, one doctor suspected that her symptoms were indicative of rabies.

Tests returned from the Public Health Authority in Sweden confirming the suspicion of rabies on May 4.

But it was too late. Kallestad died on May 6 at the hospital where she worked, about eight days after she was admitted there full time.

“Our dear Birgitte loved animals,” a family spokesperson said, according to the BBC. “Our fear is that this will happen to others who have a warm heart like her.”

“We are very sympathetic with the family,” Sir Feruglio, a Senior Medical Officer at the Institute, told the BBC.

“[Rabies] is a disease that’s endemic in 150 countries and it’s a huge health problem,” he said.

According to the BBC, her death marks the first rabies-related death in Norway for more than 200 years.

“It’s a terribly heavy case and a strain for the family,” infectious disease consultant Jens Eikås told VG.

The Daily Mail reported that Kallestad’s friends, who had been in contact with the dog, have been notified. Norway’s health trust has also contacted at least 77 people who had contact with Kallestad,  and of these people, 31 have been vaccinated against rabies.

Under Norwegian law, rabies vaccines are not compulsory. However, Norway’s Institute of Public Health does recommend the rabies vaccines for certain countries—the Philippines among them.

filipino children in philippines
Filipino children play at a broken fishing boat in Manila Bay in Baseco, Tondo on July 8, 2017. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images)

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that while rabies is 100 percent treatable, thousands of people around the world still die from the disease each year.

According to the CDC, the most common way rabies is transmitted is “through the bite and virus-containing saliva of an infected host.” The rabies virus attacks the brain and nervous system in humans and, if left untreated, it can result in death within a few days of symptoms onset.

stray dog on world rabies day philippines
A stray dog roams on the streets of Cainta municipality in the Philippines on Sept. 28, 2013. (Veejay Villafranca/Getty Images for WSPA/File)

Initial symptoms of rabies include headaches and a fever.

“As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water),” the CDC states.

“Decisions to start vaccination, known as postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), will be based on your type of exposure and the animal you were exposed to, as well as laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where the exposure occurred,” the CDC’s website states.

“In the United States, postexposure prophylaxis consists of a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period.”

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