Rabies from a dog kills Virginia woman after yoga retreat to India

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By Maggie Fox

The symptoms started with a pain in her right arm. The patient, a 65-year-old Virginia woman, went to an urgent care center and got painkillers. There was no hint that she in fact was infected with the world’s deadliest virus and was already destined to die – the price for contact with a puppy in India.

Virginia health officials reported on her case Thursday, along with a warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the risk of contact with dogs and other animals while traveling in many developing countries.

A litter of puppies shortly after being vaccinated by NGO Mission Rabies during a rabies vaccination campaign in Goa, India. The puppies were painted with a red dot to signify that they were vaccinated, which ensures that dogs do not get re-vaccinated during the campaign, and helps estimate the vaccination coverage when the campaign is finished.Ryan Wallace / CDC, Poxvirus and Rabies Branch

The patient had been on a seven-week-long yoga retreat in India just weeks before. “Tour members confirmed that the patient was bitten by a puppy outside her hotel in Rishikesh, India, and that the wound was washed with water, but no further treatment was administered,” Virginia’s state public health veterinarian, Dr. Julia Murphy, and colleagues wrote in their report.

“I don’t believe that she was playing with the puppy, but the puppy was seen in the area and approached her,” Murphy told NBC News.

Dog rabies has been eliminated in the U.S. thanks to strict vaccination laws, but the virus is common in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The virus kills 59,000 people a year globally, according to the CDC. The patient, who was not identified, was infected with a strain of rabies common in dogs in India.