A 73-year-old New Jersey woman has died of rabies after being bitten by an infected dog. The woman was visiting Haiti in April when she was bitten, and she developed signs of neurological disease in late June. Family members and healthcare workers are being assessed to determine whether they may have been exposed to rabies during care of the woman. If so, post-exposure treatment would be started.

Rabies is a devastating but almost 100% preventable disease. While rare in most developed countries, canine rabies is a huge problem internationally and kills tens of thousands of people every year. The main reason it kills so many people is because of inadequate access to proper post-exposure treatment or failure to seek medical care. Timely access to post-exposure care can virtually guarantee that a person won’t get rabies.

Why this woman didn’t get post-exposure prophylaxis (I’m making the assumption that she didn’t) isn’t reported, and it could be because of patient or healthcare factors such as:

  • Assuming a minor bite isn’t a big deal.
  • Not thinking about the potential for rabies.
  • No access to adequate heatlhcare.
  • The physician not thinking about rabies.
  • Inadequate or no supply of rabies vaccine (for post-exposure treatment).

All of these problems can occur.  Education of the public and medical personnel, as well as ensuring adequate access to rabies vaccine, are critical to prevention.

More information about rabies can be found in the Worms & Germs Resources page.