Norwegian tourist, 24, dies of rabies after she’s bitten by a puppy she rescued while on holiday in the Philippines
- Birgitte Kallestad died Monday after contracting rabies from a dog she rescued
- She and her friends sustained minor cuts and bites while playing with the puppy
- The health worker began to feel unwell weeks after returning home to Norway
- Doctors were stumped as rabies hasn’t occurred in mainland Norway since 1815
- Her family want rabies vaccines to become compulsory for the Philippines
Birgitte Kallestad, 24, from Norway, died on Monday after contracting rabies from a stray dog in the Philippines
A Norwegian tourist has died of rabies after being bitten by a stray dog she rescued from the street in the Philippines.
Birgitte Kallestad, 24, from Hordaland on the Norwegian west coast, died on Monday night – more than two months after coming into contact with the dog while travelling with friends in February.
According to a statement from Birgitte’s family, the group were out riding mopeds when they came across a stray puppy on the side of the road, which Birgitte carried into her basket and took home.
After washing and grooming the dog, Birgitte and her friends played with it in the garden.
Birgitte’s family said everyone sustained minor bites and scratches from the dog during this time – as most puppy owners do.
Birgitte, who was a health worker employed at Førde central hospital, patched up and sterilized the scrapes herself. The cuts were so small that nobody saw the need for further medical supervision, the family said.
It was only after the 24-year-old had returned home to Norway that she began to feel unwell.
Initial symptoms of rabies include a fever and headaches, but as the disease worsens patients can suffer hallucinations, muscle spasms and respiratory failure.
Birgitte’s family described her as a ‘sunbeam’ with a warm heart who loved animals and just wanted to help
Birgitte (pictured) was a health worker and patched up and sterilized the cuts herself. Nobody, least of all her, connected the dog’s cuts with her illness months later
Doctors struggled to diagnose the problem and no one, not even Birgitte herself, connected her illness to the dog bite.
It has been over 200 years since rabies was last detected on the Norwegian mainland.
She was hospitalized several times as her condition worsened, before eventually being admitted full time, the family said.
Birgitte began to feel unwell weeks after returning home from the Philippines
Finally, a doctor in the hospital in Førde suspected that Birgitte’s symptoms were signs of rabies.
Samples sent to the Public Health Authority in Sweden confirmed these suspicions on Saturday.
Neither Birgitte nor anyone she was travelling with had been inoculated against the disease, because it is not on the list of vaccines required for the Philippines unless you plan to travel to areas with poor hygiene and sanitation.
Birgitte’s family are now campaigning for rabies to be included on the program for the Philippines and other places where it is is possible to contract the disease from street animals.
‘Our dear Birgitte loved animals,’ a family spokesperson said.
‘Our fear is that this will happen to others who have a warm heart like her. We want this vaccine to be included in the program for places where it can be rabies, and that people become aware of the dangers.’
‘If we manage to achieve this, the death of our sunbeam can save others.’
Birgitte died on Monday night, eight days after being admitted to the hospital where she worked.
Birgitte’s family want rabies vaccines to become compulsory for those travelling to the Philippines, where street dogs can carry the viral disease (file image)
‘It’s a terribly heavy case and a strain for the family,’ infectious disease consultant Jens Eikås told VG.
The others who were on the trip and who were also in contact with the dog have been alerted and Norway’s health trust has so far been in contact with 77 people who have been in contact with the Birgitte.
Of these, 31 have been vaccinated, according to local media.
Rabies: Death from a scratch
Rabies is a viral infection which targets the nervous system and the brain.
It is deadly in 100 percent of cases left untreated – and has an incubation period of 20 to 60 days.
It is only spread by infected animals to humans, most often through the animal biting or scratching the person.
It can also be spread by an animal’s saliva being in contact with a graze or cut on a human’s skin. The majority of rabies cases result from being bitten by an infected dog.
The symptoms of the illness include high temperatures, numbness at the area where the bite occurred and hallucinations. Some victims also have hydrophobia, which is a fear of water.
There are about 55,000 cases of rabies worldwide each year with most cases occurring in Africa and Asia.
Half of all rabies cases occur in India.