Puppy bite at yoga retreat leads to rabies death: Prompts health warning



Individuals going to rabies-endemic countries should have a pretrip consultation with a travel health specialist, say authors of a case report describing the death of a woman who sustained a bite from a rabid puppy during a 2017 yoga retreat in rural India.

copyright/Dr. Daniel P. Perl/CDC

Preexposure prophylaxis is warranted, especially for individuals expected to be in those countries for long durations, those planning to go to remote areas, or if they plan activities that may put them at risk for rabies exposure, the authors wrote in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“In the case of the yoga retreat tour, given the extended length of the tour and the rural and community activities involved, pretravel rabies vaccination should have been considered,” said Julia Murphy, DVM, a veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Health, and her coauthors in the recently published report.

The case also underscores the importance of prompt rabies diagnosis, according to Dr. Murphy and her colleagues: 250 health care workers were assessed for exposure to the patient, 72 (29%) of whom were advised to initiate postexposure prophylaxis and were treated at a cost of nearly a quarter million dollars.

The Virginia woman described in the case report was aged 65 years and had no preexisting health conditions. She had spent more than 2 months on a yoga retreat tour in India and was bitten by a puppy near her hotel in Rishikesh in northern India, according to results of a public health investigation.

That retreat ended on April 7, 2017, according to the report, and on May 3, 2017, the woman started to have pain and paresthesia in her right arm during gardening.

On May 6, she sought care at an urgent care facility, resulting in a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome and a prescription for an NSAID.

The next day, she was evaluated at a hospital for anxiety, insomnia, shortness of breath, and difficulty swallowing water and was given lorazepam for a presumed panic attack. She was discharged and, in her car, experienced claustrophobia and shortness of breath. She returned to the hospital’s ED, received more lorazepam, and was again discharged.

The day after that, she was transported by ambulance to another hospital with increased anxiety, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, and progressive paresthesia; she was found to have elevated cardiac enzymes and underwent emergency cardiac catheterization, which revealed normal arteries.

That evening, the patient became “progressively agitated and combative,” according to the report, and was found to be gasping for air while trying to drink water. When family were questioned about animal exposures, the woman’s husband indicated that she had been bitten on the right hand by a puppy during the yoga retreat, about 6 weeks before the symptoms started.

Once a diagnosis of rabies was confirmed, the woman was started on aggressive treatment but eventually died, according to Dr. Murphy and her coauthors, which made this patient the ninth person in the United States to die from rabies exposure while overseas since 2008. Canine rabies has been eliminated in the United States because of the strict vaccination laws.

“These events underscore the importance of obtaining a thorough pretravel health consultation, particularly when visiting countries with high incidence of emerging or zoonotic pathogens, to ensure awareness of health risks and appropriate pretravel and postexposure health care actions,” they concluded in their report.

Dr. Murphy and her coauthors reported no potential conflicts of interest related to the case report.

SOURCE: Murphy J et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019 Jan 4;67(5152):1410-4.

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