A 24-year-old Norwegian woman has died after catching rabies from a stray puppy that she rescued during a holiday in the Philippines.
Birgitte Kallestad was on holiday with friends when they found a puppy on a street, her family said in a statement today (Friday, May 10).
“Birgitte picked up the puppy in a basket and took it home. She washed it and looked after it, and it started to get better,” the family wrote.
“Everyone in the house was playing with the puppy, also the family who lived at the resort, but after a short while the puppy started to bite, as puppies now do. It snatched her fingers when they were playing and everyone got small puppy bites.”
Birgitte, a nurse, patched up and sterilised the scrapes herself. The cuts were so small that nobody saw the need for further medical supervision.
Birgitte fell ill soon after returning to Norway and died on Monday this week at Førde central hospital where she worked as a nurse.
Doctors struggled to diagnose the problem and no one, including Birgitte, connected her illness to the dog bite.
According to the Norwegian press, it has been more than 200 years since rabies was last detected on the Norwegian mainland.
Eventually, a doctor treating her suspected that Birgitte’s symptoms were signs of rabies.
Samples sent to the Public Health Authority in Sweden confirmed these suspicions last Saturday.
Other people who were on the trip and also in contact with the dog have been alerted and Norway’s health trust has so far contacted 77 people.
Of these, 31 have been vaccinated.
Call for rabies vaccine
“Our dear Birgitte loved animals,” said her family. “Our fear is that this will happen to others who have a warm heart like her”.
Norway’s government does not make rabies vaccinations compulsory for citizens travelling to the Philippines, but Birgitte’s family has now called for a change in the law.
“If we can achieve this, the death of our sunbeam can save others,” the family said.
There are about 55,000 cases of rabies worldwide per year with most occurring in Africa and Asia, and in particularly India.
According to the Philippine Department of Heath, there were 1,176 cases in the country between January 1, 2014, and June 30, 2018. Ninety-two per cent of cases were due to exposure to rabid dogs, followed by cats at three per cent. Almost half (49 per cent) were domesticated animals while 38 per cent were stray.
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