Have I got rabies? The time I was bitten by a mongoose and why you should have the vaccine

The second thought that passed through my head after “get that thing away from me”, was “have I got rabies”?

Now I don’t know about you, but being bitten by a Banded Mongoose was the last danger I’d considered when planning a solo trip to Namibia! (You can read more about my trip here)

Dramatics aside, the reality of travelling in places where rabies is a risk and, Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) when I was unfortunate enough to be bitten by a wild animal in Africa; was enough to convince me that rabies vaccinations are the way to go. Especially, now I know they’re not injected in the stomach.

Cute little lady

When I arrived at the game ranch, this little lady came to join me for lunch and even climbed up on my lap at one point. I was nervous but didn’t think much of it; until the owner’s daughter came to warn me that “their pet”, had bitten some other guests and she should take it away. I looked at her a bit confused, but could see she was serious after I said, “you think it’s going to bite me don’t you?” I was then presented with a water spray to keep it away.

I thought they were going to move the mongoose, but they didn’t, so I had to spend the rest of the day alert ready to spray. However, I didn’t see it much that day.

have i got rabies

A light mauling

The following afternoon I went to the pool to relax and read.  I could hear the girl I spoke to the day, before talking to someone/something from the pool. As I sat down on a sunlounger, the mongoose tore around the plant pots and sank it’s teeth into my ankle and foot. My feet were so dry, that it’s teeth went right into my foot and the wound quickly started bleeding. As the mongoose was called off, I noticed that it’s back was wet, I now assume the girl had been teasing it, by flicking water from the pool.

One of the staff came with a medical kit and started to clean my foot. As he was doing this, the mongoose attacked again; biting  the back of my arm just below the elbow. I practically flung it off and they took it away.

It looked angrier than the one in this photo when it was attacking me! Not so cute now, is it?!

Quite honestly I was in a state of shock. My foot was still bleeding but my ankle and arm weren’t too bad. I said to the girl what if it has rabies? She made light of this and said, of course, it didn’t.

I used my phone to search the internet for what to do in this type of situation, but google wasn’t very helpful on this occasion. What I did find, is that you should soak bites in soapy water to prevent saliva entering the wound and to prevent infection. In the absence of a bath, I got in the swimming pool and stayed there for about 30 minutes.

Later the owner of the lodge arrived to speak with me.  Again, I asked if rabies was a possibility? She said her doctor told her they don’t carry rabies and, if it had it, they’d all be dead by now as it bites them all! Looking back, I wonder why a ranch would risk it’s guests in this manner and I still haven’t brought myself to put a review on booking.com, I have a feeling that they’d somehow try to blame me.

Getting medical attention

What I had gleaned from the internet, is that the rabies virus travels relatively slowly; so the closer to the brain you have a bite (or a lick, on open wounds), the sooner you need to seek help.

I was returning to Windhoek for my final night the following day, so decided it was best to try and find a medical centre then. I also emailed my doctor at home to seek advice. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a mild state of panic, worrying that I might die. Probably over dramatic, but I didn’t  fully believe what the owners were saying. Whilst it was a pet, the mongoose was able to interact with other wild animals and, they may not carry the virus, but they could certainly get it. This one had bouts of craziness and didn’t like water…..two signs of the virus. After dozens of google searches, the wifi went off so I went to bed.

The following morning I tried to search for a medical centre in Windhoek but the wifi was still off. I felt suspicious the owners had turned it off to prevent me discussing the event on social media, maybe paranoid but you never now. I left as soon as I could, even paid my full bill (why?!!), and drove 5 hours straight to the city. Without  GPS, I didn’t have much luck finding a medical centre on the map and was lucky to find Eros Medical centre by chance.

I explained to the reception why I was there and was seen by Dr Angelo within 5 minutes (what service). I talked through what had happened. He calmly explained, it was certainly possible that the animal had the rabies virus without the family knowing and it wasn’t wise to take a chance. He’d seen two children in the past that had contracted rabies and had to tell them that they would die. A lovely doctor, he gave me the first of a course of vaccinations, along with dates to give my doctor for the rest and told me not to worry anymore. The cost? Around £40. The jab itself didn’t hurt that much, but later that evening I started to have side effects of a headache and mild flu-like feeling. I couldn’t wait to get home.

I received an email from my doctor asking for more information, we exchanged a couple of messages and the surgery told me that they’d have to contact Public Health England on Monday morning for advice, and they would call me after speaking with them.

Further treatment

On Monday morning I had a call from the nurse at my local GP surgery.  I needed to come in to be weighed, Public Health England had advised immunoglobulin alongside the four remaining vaccines in the PEP course. They have a protocol to follow, which depends on where the bite occurred and how bad the injury is, see Public Health England Guidelines

After the weigh-in, the vaccines were ordered. I was pretty nervous about the immunoglobulin as it can cause anaphylactic shock in some people, more likely if the nurse accidently hits a blood vessel. Sleepless night ensued.

  • Tuesday 13 September:

Immunoglobin split into 2 syringes, injected into each thigh, with the longest needles I had ever seen. It was quite painful but not as bad as I’d anticipated. I was allowed to rest for a few minutes between each one, to ensure I didn’t have any obvious side effects. I was then given the second of the rabies vaccines, and asked to remain in the waiting room for at least 20 minutes before driving home. The after effects again were a headache and mild flu-like symptoms.

  • 16 September: 3rd in the rabies vaccine course, after effects as before
  • 23 September: 4th in the rabies vaccine course, after effects as before
  • 10 October: Final vaccine, after effects not too bad

Get vaccinated

Pre-exposure immunisation for rabies is usually recommended in the following circumstances:

  • people travelling to an area for one month or more where rabies is common in animals and there is no access to prompt and safe medical care
  • people travelling to an area where rabies is common and taking part in activities that expose them to rabies, such as trekking

From what I know now, I would consider the vaccine if I was travelling to an area for any length of  time where rabies is common, where there isn’t access to prompt safe medical care. Bare in mind that  the availability of immunoglobulin and/or vaccines is low in some countries even if you’re close to medical help. Of course, I’m now fully protected for around ten years.

Steps to take if you’re exposed

  1. Soak and clean the wound in hot soapy water for at least 20 minutes
  2. Try to obtain professional medical advice over the phone or by email
  3. Get to a medical centre and see a doctor. Note: the further up your body and the worse the injury is the more urgent this is
  4. Try to stay calm

I’m not a medical professional so please seek qualified advice

Here’s some links for further information:

Let me know if you’ve had a medical issue whilst travelling…..I don’t bite.

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