The Northern Ireland woman who contracted the rabies virus while working with abandoned animals in South Africa has lost her fight for life.
Lisa McMurray had spent weeks in the Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital after contracting the deadly disease.
She passed away at the hospital early yesterday evening.
The devoted animal lover is understood to have begun feeling unwell after she returned home from a visit abroad.
She was initially treated in the Ulster Hospital but was transferred to the Royal.
In a statement last night, Lisa's family said they were “devastated” by her death and paid tribute to her courage.
“We are extremely proud not only of all she achieved in life but also of the bravery with which she fought her illness,” they said.
“Her courage was inspiring and typical of the passionate and determined way in which she led her life.
“Her loss will leave a huge hole in all our lives and her family and friends will miss her terribly.”
The family also thanked the medical staff who helped to treat Lisa throughout her illness.
“Their skill and dedication has been a great source of comfort to us and they did everything possible to care for her,” they said.
“The sensitive way in which they cared not only for Lisa but for her family and friends has been exceptional and we are very grateful.
“Our thanks goes to all those whose thoughts and prayers have helped to sustain us over the past weeks.”
Lisa, who was aged in her 30s and was unmarried, had worked as a communications director with the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau, but left to work for the Cats Protection Adoption Centre in Dundonald.
It is believed that she may have contracted the rabies virus more than two years ago, while volunteering at an animal sanctuary in South Africa. Doctors had been probing a theory that she may have become infected whilst separating two fighting dogs.
It is believed Lisa’s illness was the first recorded case of rabies in Northern Ireland for around 70 years.
While cases of rabies are rare in the UK, there are around 70,000 cases in humans in other parts of the world every year. The infection is most common in Africa and parts of Asia.
The disease affects the central nervous system, but can be prevented through a vaccination programme.
Humans generally suffer from a fever before slipping into a coma, but there is no risk of sufferers spreading the disease to others.
The Eastern Health and Social Services Board in Belfast led a multi-agency investigation into Lisa’s case and insisted the risk to the wider community was negligible as there is no documented case of human-to-human transmission of rabies anywhere in the world.
It said when she was diagnosed that Ms McMurray posed no threat to other patients in the hospital and that “all necessary steps on infection control were in place for the protection of staff”.
Infected dogs are the most common cause of human infection worldwide.