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Rabies patient 'was sent home by doctors'

Rabies patient 'was sent home by doctors'

A hospital has launched an inquiry into how a woman now diagnosed with rabies and seriously ill at another specialist hospital was treated by its accident and emergency department and reportedly sent home on two occasions.

The woman, who lives in Bexley, south London, had been bitten by a dog while abroad and is now at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in central London. Relatives of the woman, said to be in her 50s, and health staff who saw her before the diagnosis have been offered vaccination against the disease, which is extremely rare in Britain but common in south Asia where she had recently visited.

Darent Valley hospital in Dartford, Kent, confirmed the woman had visited its A&E department and that five staff were being vaccinated as a precaution.

It said in a statement: "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.

"Although there are no cases of rabies being passed through human-to-human contact, the five members of staff that came into close contact with the patient 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."

The woman is reported by the Sun newspaper to be of Indian ethnic origin and had been in India with her husband when she was bitten by a puppy.

It also said a GP had failed to identify the disease before she went to Darent Valley. Subsequently her doctor referred her to A&E at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich, south London, on Friday. The Sun said one of her cats had been taken to the vet in recent weeks for reasons that were unclear.

The Hospital for Tropical Diseases, based at University College Hospital, said it was "currently looking after a British patient diagnosed with rabies following a trip abroad. The patient is in a serious condition.

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

The South London Healthcare NHS trust, responsible for the Queen Elizabeth hospital, said: "A patient attended the emergency department at Queen Elizabeth hospital, Woolwich, last Friday, with possible rabies.

"The Health Protection Agency was notified and measures to ensure the immediate safety and prompt treatment of the patient were agreed. The patient was later transferred to a specialist centre for infectious diseases where rabies was confirmed.

"The HPA has stressed that there is no risk to the general public as a result of this case or to patients and visitors at our hospital. 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, on the advice of the HPA, healthcare staff who had close contact with the patient whilst they were in our emergency department have been reassured, assessed and offered vaccination if appropriate.

"We are very proud of our staff for the professional manner with which they provided care for this patient, and our thoughts are with the patient and their family at this time."

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.

Since 1946, 24 cases of rabies have been reported in the United Kingdom, all imported. Only four cases have occurred since 2000. Two unconnected cases occurred in 2001, imported from the Philippines and Nigeria. A case in 2005 followed a dog bite in Goa and a case in December 2008 followed a dog bite in South Africa.

In November 2002, David McRae, who had handled bats for years, died in Scotland from a rabies-like infection caused by a bat virus.

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