Birgitte Kallestad of Norway, 24, passed away after contracting rabies from a stray puppy she had rescued while on vacation in the Philippines.
Local media outlet Verdens Gang reported that she died on May 6, more than two months after her vacation. Her family said that Kallestad did not begin experiencing symptoms until weeks after returning home.
Kallestad went to the emergency room multiple times but doctors did not connect her illness to the dog bite until three days before she passed. Norway had not had a rabies case in more than 200 years.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Birgitte Kallestad Encountered the Stray Puppy on the Side of a Road & Brought it Back to the Resort While on Vacation
Birgitte Kallestad traveled with friends to the Philippines in February. She shared beach photos from the trip to her Instagram account, but did not post any images of the dog she found on the side of a road.
Her family told the Daily Mail that Kallestad and her friends were riding mopeds when she noticed the stray animal. She brought the puppy back to the resort. They washed the puppy and the entire group played with it.
Kallestad’s family said that several of them were either bitten or scratched by the puppy, but that all of the injuries appeared minor. They said Kallestad sterilized the areas where the puppy had bitten her and didn’t think much of it.
2. Birgitte Kallestad Began Feeling Sick Weeks After Returning From the Philippines & the Swedish Public Health Authority Confirmed She Had Rabies
Birgitte Kallestad’s family said that initialy, there was no indication that anything was wrong. She did not begin feeling sick until several weeks after returning to Norway.
Kallestad went to the emergency room several times and was admitted to the hospital on April 28. According to local news outlet Verdens Gang, doctors sent blood samples to the Swedish Public Health Authority after learning that Kallestad had been bitten by a dog while on vacation. The lab confirmed on Saturday, May 4, that Kallestad had been infected by the rabies virus.
Kallestad died on May 6. The director of health at Helse Forde hospital, Trine Hunskår Vingsnes, said in a statement, “The patient was admitted to our intensive care unit, and died peacefully with the closest family around her.”
The local outlet also reported that Kallestad’s case marked the first time since 1815 that anyone in Norway had been diagnosed with the virus.
3. Kallestad Worked as a Bioengineer at the Same Hospital Where She was Treated
Birgitte Kallestad has recently graduated from college with a degree in bioengineering. According to her Facebook page, she attended Western Norway University of Applied Sciences and graduated in 2018.
She began working at the hospital in June of 2018. Kallestad shared a picture to Instagram of her lab material after returning from vacation on March 5. The caption reads, “Back to reality ?#microbiology #workworkwork”
4. Kallestad’s Parents Are Pushing for Travelers to be Required to Have a Rabies Vaccination Before Traveling to the Philippines
Birgitte Kallestad’s parents described their daughter to the BBC. “Our dear Birgitte loved animals. Our fear is that this will happen to others who have a warm heart like her.”
They are taking steps to try to ensure that no one else dies from rabies. They are pushing for the rabies vaccination to be required for travelers to have before visiting the Philippines and any other areas where the virus is viewed as a substantial threat. The family spokesperson added, “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.”
A senior medical officer with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health reierated in an interview with the BBC, “It’s really important to stress that even if you’ve been vaccinated before you travel, if you do have contact [with a potentially infected animal] you need to go to a local health clinic for a second vaccination.”
5. Rabies is Nearly Always Fatal to Humans Once Symptoms Appear, According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
Rabies is preventable thanks to vaccinations, but deadly if not treated immediately. The World Health Organization reports that 99 percent of all human deaths from rabies come from dog bites. 95 percent of all cases occur in Asia and Africa.
Animals carry rabies through their saliva. The Centers for Disease Control says that a person infected with rabies may think they they have the flu. Initial symptoms include weakness, fever and headache. As the virus progresses, it targets the brain. The symptoms get worse and include cerebral dysfunction, agitation, confusion, hallucinations, and insomnia. The CDC says that “once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive.”