Page last updated at 18:49 GMT, Saturday, 26 April 2008 19:49 UK

Social worker bitten by rabid dog

Kim Cooling founder of the Animal SOS Sri Lanka charity
Kim Cooling was bitten in three places by the rabid dog

A social worker who runs a charity that helps street dogs in Sri Lanka was one of three people bitten by a puppy infected with rabies.

Kim Cooling was "nipped" on the chin, wrist and face by the dog, which died two days later in quarantine.

The puppy was one of 13 dogs taken to Chingford Quarantine Kennels in north-east London.

They had been brought from Sri Lanka, and although Mrs Cooling's charity was not involved, she had been asked to help.

The three people who were bitten are all "well", according to the Health Protection Agency.

A spokesman for the agency said: "We understand that three individuals who were bitten by the animal in the quarantine centre have received prompt protective treatment with appropriate vaccination and are well."

Because the dog died in quarantine, any public health risk was contained, the agency said.

Animals being checked

The dogs had been held at the centre since 17 April. Five of them were placed in isolation after showing signs of illness.

Four of the dogs have since been put down, and tests are being carried out to determine if they had rabies.

On Monday, Georgina Hyams, from the rescue charity, said test results for those four animals were negative for rabies.

Mrs Cooling, from the London-based Animal SOS Sri Lanka charity, said the dog that died had been vaccinated before leaving Sri Lanka.

She had been with the dog at the quarantine kennels on Wednesday when she was bitten.

"She just snapped at me and she was snapping at the other pups. She was not her usual sweet self," she said.

Mrs Cooling, and two kennel workers who were bitten by the puppy have received hospital treatment.

Other animals that may have come into contact with the puppy were being checked, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

But it stressed that further infections were "highly unlikely" and the UK remained "free of rabies" because the case had occurred in quarantine.

'System working'

Acting Chief Veterinary Officer Alick Simmons said: "While initial tests show that this puppy has tested positive for rabies, this shows that the system is working and the case has been picked up while the animal is in quarantine.

"We are now tracing animals that have moved from the kennels to ensure that all animals that have come into contact with the puppy are monitored."

Jeremy Robinson is the general manager of the Goddard Veterinary Group, which includes Chingford Quarantine Kennels.

He said there had been immediate concerns about the health of the five eight-week-old puppies and these had been placed in an isolated area away from other dogs and cats.

"I am confident that no other animals can have been infected," he said.

Effective treatment

Rabies is a viral disease which affects the central nervous system. Once symptoms appear it is almost always fatal, but patients can be treated with antibodies and a vaccination to fight the virus after being bitten.

Professor Hugh Pennington, an expert in bacteriology at Aberdeen University, told the BBC the treatment for rabies had a high success rate.

A professor of bacteriology on the risks to public health

Rabies was eliminated from the animal population in the UK in the early 20th Century, but it continues to infect a variety of animals in other parts of the world.

Twenty cases of rabies have been reported in England and Wales since 1946, which were all imported.

A licensed bat handler died in Scotland from a rare form of rabies caught from a bat in 2002.

Correction 12 February 2010: The original version of this report, based on news agency material, said that the dogs had been brought to the UK by Animal SOS Sri Lanka. However, the charity does not import dogs, but helps them in their own country.

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