Diagnosis, management and post-mortem findings of a human case of rabies imported into the United Kingdom from India: A case report

Smriti Pathak, Daniel L. Horton, Sebastian Lucas, David Brown, Shumonta Quaderi, Sara Polhill, David Walker, Eleni Nastouli, Alejandro Núñez, Emma L. Wise, Anthony R. Fooks, Michael Brown*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Human rabies infection continues to be a significant public health burden globally, and is occasionally imported to high income settings where the Milwaukee Protocol for intensive care management has recently been employed, with limited success in improving survival. Access to molecular diagnostics, pre- and post-mortem, and documentation of pathophysiological responses while using the Milwaukee protocol, can add useful insights for the future of rabies management. Case presentation. A 58-year-old British Asian woman was referred to a regional general hospital in the UK with hydrophobia, anxiety and confusion nine weeks after receiving a dog bite in North West India. Nuchal skin biopsy, saliva, and a skin biopsy from the site of the dog bite wound, taken on the day of admission, all demonstrated the presence of rabies virus RNA. Within 48 hours sequence analysis of viral RNA confirmed the diagnosis and demonstrated that the virus was a strain closely related to canine rabies viruses circulating in South Asia. Her condition deteriorated rapidly with increased agitation and autonomic dysfunction. She was heavily sedated and intubated on the day after admission, treated according to a modified Milwaukee protocol, and remained stable until she developed heart block and profound acidosis and died on the eighth day. Analysis of autopsy samples showed a complete absence of rabies neutralizing antibody in cerebrospinal fluid and serum, and corresponding high levels of virus antigen and nucleic acid in brain and cerebrospinal fluid. Quantitative PCR showed virus was also distributed widely in peripheral tissues despite mild or undetectable histopathological changes. Vagus nerve branches in the heart showed neuritis, a probable Negri body but no demonstrable rabies antigen. Conclusion: Rapid molecular diagnosis and strain typing is helpful in the management of human rabies infection. Post-mortem findings such as vagal neuritis highlight clinically important effects on the cardiovascular system which are typical for the clinical course of rabies in humans. Management guided by the Milwaukee protocol is feasible within well-resourced intensive care units, but its role in improving outcome for canine-derived rabies remains theoretical.

Original languageEnglish
Article number63
JournalVirology Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The UK National Reference Laboratory for rabies at AHVLA is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) under grant SV3500. The authors wish to acknowledge Denise Marston and Dr Richard Ellis (AHVLA) for sequence analysis; Dr Daniel Hicks (AHVLA Pathology Department) for technical support; Dr Emma Crawley-Boevey, Dilys Morgan, Kevin Brown, Hilary Kirkbride and colleagues at Public Health England for their contribution to the public health response; and Dr R Willoughby (Wisconsin, USA) for his helpful advice during management of the case.


  • Diagnosis
  • Milwaukee protocol
  • Rabies


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