Dog owners are getting direly sick after being licked by their pets.
A case published in the European Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine, documents a 63-year-old man’s death after having been licked by his dog. The journal indicates he “had touched and was licked by his dog in the weeks prior to becoming ill.” Evidently, a medical team discovered that the man had been infected with a bacteria that lives in the saliva of cats and dogs known as Capnocytophaga canimorsus.
The dog owner initially went to the hospital with “flu-like symptoms and labored breathing,” which after just thirty hours later, became direly worse. He went into cardiac arrest and the team was able to resuscitate him. But, the tissue in the man’s extremities then started to die and turn gangrenous. He eventually developed septic shock with fatal multi-organ failure, which caused his death.
A similar issue happened this past summer to an Ohio dog owner, Marie Trainer, who experienced flu-like symptoms after becoming infected with the same bacteria. She had her hands and legs partially amputated but survived.
Luckily, the risk of developing this bacterial infection is very low. “Capnocytophaga canimorsus is actually a rare cause of infections,” Julie Mangino, MD, infectious disease physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Yet, once infected, “the infection can be fatal in 25 percent of patients,” according to the study authors.
“It is harmful if it gets into the body either through contact with a scratch on your skin or just by contact with the animal’s saliva, which gets into a person’s bloodstream,” explained Mangino. “It can wreak havoc and lead to sepsis. Sepsis occurs as an inflammatory reaction within the body that may lead organs within the body to shut down.”
Excessive alcohol use can increase risk of developing an infection. Those who have had their spleen surgically removed and those with a compromised immune system are also at higher risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “It causes severe disease in people who have a form of immune deficiency such as HIV/AIDS, are on steroids or other immune-suppressive medications such as chemotherapy,” says Mangino. “The infections are more likely to occur in adults over 40 years old,” according to the CDC. The agency added, “Most contact with dogs and cats does not lead to a Capnocytophaga infection or any illness, even after a bite.”
However, “it is important to remember that even though our pets are like family to us, they are still animals,” Mangino warned. “Their mouth has a lot of bacteria in it and a bite or a scratch, which the owner may consider to be ‘just nothing,’ can lead to serious consequences as in these two recent stories, whereby one patient died and the other developed gangrene and ultimately lost her hands and legs.”
The authors of the most recent study write that anyone developing flu-like symptoms, especially those who are cat or dog owners, should “urgently seek medical advice when their symptoms exceed those of a simple viral infection.” The study authors also recommend that “physicians ask patients with flu-like symptoms whether they have any contact with dogs and cats.” Additionally, the CDC recommends “washing the bite area immediately with soap and water and calling your doctor right away – even if you don’t feel sick…Some infections [of Capnocytophaga] can progress very quickly, result in sepsis, and lead to death within 24 to 72 hours after symptoms start.”