A recent study published in the Pan African Medical Journal details the investigation into staff exposure and describe animal bite surveillance after detection of a rabid zebra in a safari lodge in Kenya in 2011.
According to the researchers led by Mark Obonyo with the Kenya Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program, Ministry of Health, Nairobi, Kenya:
On July 31, 2011, a zebra foal housed at a Kenyan safari lodge in Loitoktok District was bitten by a feral dog. Approximately one month later, the zebra died after experiencing a neurological illness consistent with rabies. Brain tissue was submitted to the Central Veterinary Laboratories (CVL) in Kabete on August 30, 2011. The rabies diagnosis was laboratory confirmed by a fluorescent-antibody test.
There was an immediate health concern given that both staff and guests at the lodge had opportunities for physical contact with the zebra. The lodge distributed a statement by email to guests from several countries around the world, alerting them of the possible exposure to the rabies virus, and recommending individuals to seek clinical consultation for further guidance.
On September 1, 2011, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received reports from two State Health Departments regarding need for PEP among American tourists that had visited the lodge. The CDC immediately contacted the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, and the event was reported to the WHO. A multinational investigation among US and other international tourists who visited the affected lodge was initiated to ensure that travelers potentially exposed to the rabies virus received appropriate rabies PEP.
Based on site investigation and animal bite surveillance researchers found the zebra was reported bitten by a dog on 31st July 2011, became ill on 23rd August, and died three days later. There were 22 employees working at the lodge during that time. Six (27%) had high exposure due to contact with saliva (bottle feeding, veterinary care) and received four doses of rabies vaccine and one of immune-globulin, and 16 (73%) had low exposure due to casual contact and received only four doses of rabies vaccine. From January 2010 to September 2011, 118 cases of animal bites were reported in the district; 67 (57%) occurred among males, 65 (57%) in children <15 years old, and 61 (52%) were inflicted in a lower extremity. Domestic and stray dogs accounted for 98% of reported bites.
This investigation highlighted the fact that in Kenya human exposure to the rabies virus can occur from contact with wildlife. However, such exposures are rarely reported and not well documented in Kenya. Wildlife in Kenya accounts for less than one percent of reported rabies cases in animals, suggesting that rabies in wildlife is underreported.
Researchers concluded that though rabies virus exposures from owned dog bites continue to be a challenging problem in Kenya, the large-scale exposure of staff and guests at a safari lodge highlighted that non-canine wildlife species can also become infected with rabies virus and pose an exposure risk. In addition, there is a need for increased reporting of animal bites and sharing of data regarding suspected rabies cases between public health, wildlife and veterinary authorities. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page
Rabies is a fatal viral infection, resulting in >55,000 deaths globally each year.