A Norwegian woman has died after contracting rabies from a stray puppy in the Philippines.

Birgitte Kallestad, 24, from Hordaland on the Norwegian west coast, died on Monday night – more than two months after coming into contact with the dog while travelling with friends in February. Birgitte was on holiday with friends when they found the puppy on a street, her family said in a statement.

According to a statement from Birgitte’s family, the group were out riding mopeds when they came across a stray puppy on the side of the road, which Birgitte carried into her basket and took back to the resort where she was staying.

The puppy is thought to have infected her when it bit her after they took it back to their resort. She fell ill soon after returning to Norway, and died on Monday at the hospital where she worked. Birgitte, who was a health worker employed at Førde central hospital, patched up and sterilized the scrapes herself. The cuts were so small that nobody saw the need for further medical supervision, the family said.

It was only after the 24-year-old had returned home to Norway that she began to feel unwell.

Initial symptoms of rabies include a fever and headaches, but as the disease worsens patients can suffer hallucinations, muscle spasms and respiratory failure.

It is the first rabies-related death in Norway for more than 200 years. “Our dear Birgitte loved animals,” said her family. “Our fear is that this will happen to others who have a warm heart like her”.

Rabies is treatable but left untreated, it can cause a life-threatening infection of the brain and nervous system in humans.

The disease kills thousands of people every year, mostly in Asia and Africa, where it is prevalent.

Norway’s government does not make rabies vaccinations compulsory for citizens travelling to the Philippines, but Ms Kallestad’s family has now called for a change in the law.

“If we can achieve this, the death of our sunbeam can save others,” the family said.

No-one from Norway’s public health body was immediately available for comment.