A woman died of rabies on Monday in a hospital in Reims, a few weeks after being injured by a cat in a Maghreb country. Dr. Gérald Kierzek, emergency physician and medical director of TipsForWomens, explains to us the risks of touching a stray animal when traveling.
Rabies killed this week in Europe. A woman admitted to intensive care last Saturday at Reims University Hospital died last Monday even though she had received a diagnosis confirming the disease. According to information issued by the hospital, the patient had been injured by a cat, outside Europe in a Maghreb country.
A case of rabies imported from abroad
The victim presented himself to the emergency room on October 7, accompanied by a man: both had been “injured by a cat in a Maghreb country a few weeks ago” indicates the hospital. But upon taking charge, “the medical team identified that the patient presented clinical signs compatible with a suspected diagnosis of rabies”. Despite rapid treatment in intensive care, the patient died. The other patient, who was asymptomatic, was preventively taken care of via post-exposure prophylactic vaccination, and is no longer hospitalized. The Pasteur Institute confirmed the rabies diagnosis on Wednesday.
In Europe, rabies has been considered eradicated since April 30, 2001 and the rare cases that return episodically are caused by cases imported from abroad. This is not the case everywhere: worldwide, the rabies virus which is transmitted by direct contact with the saliva of infected animals is responsible for nearly 60,000 deaths per year, mainly on the African and Asian continents.
Beware of illnesses linked to stray cats when you travel
When you are scratched or bitten by a cat, especially abroad, you should take this superficial injury seriously. Dr. Gérald Kierzek, emergency physician and medical director of TipsForWomens, reminds us of the 3 major risks to which we are exposed in the event of an unfriendly encounter with a cat:
Infection and sepsis
First there is the local infection, very simple, which can degenerate and become septicemia. “It is therefore necessary to disinfect the wound, check the tetanus vaccination and react to the slightest sign of infection. In the event of redness, pus, fever and lymph nodes, you must consult quickly to receive antibiotics”.
These local infections include infection of the tendon sheath, a diagnosis which is seen when the cat bites a tendon, and the infection spreads and reaches the sheath.
The second risk is therefore rabies which you can very well bring back to Europe. “In the event of a bite, you must contact the Pasteur Institute, carry out an anti-rabies vaccination, or an anti-rabies serum, because there are no antibiotics, unfortunately” confirms our expert.
Remember that rabies induces dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and various neuropsychiatric disorders, including anxiety and agitation as well as hydrophobia (involuntary spasm of the neck and diaphragm muscles at the sight of water). Unfortunately, “once the signs are declared, the progression is towards coma and death within a few hours to a few days” indicates the Institut Pasteur website.
Cat scratch disease
Although less serious, cat scratch disease is little known among travelers. It is caused by bacteria Bartonella henselae and gives a delayed illness. “That is to say, after a scratch has healed, when you have forgotten that you had been injured, you will encounter strange symptoms such as fever, neurological disorders… but at a distance”. Once the disease is identified, treatment includes the application of local heat, painkillers and sometimes antibiotics. “But it’s worth writing down somewhere in your diary or something when you’ve been scratched by a cat.”
Three more or less serious consequences and three good reasons to avoid petting strange cats on your travels abroad, no matter how cute they may be.