- A 63-year-old man died of sepsis and organ failure within weeks of being licked by his pet dog due to a deadly bacterial infection.
- While infections are rare, the Capnocytophaga bacteria that caused it are found in the saliva of most pet dogs, and often cats.
- This is an especially rare case, since the man was healthy. Most severe cases occur in people with other health complications that compromise their immune systems.
- If you’re a dog owner, make sure any open wounds are covered wash your hands after playing with your pup.
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A healthy 63-year-old man was hospitalized, and later died, from a mysterious illness, and doctors found the culprit came from his canine companion.
Shortly after playing with his beloved pet dog, the man reported feeling flu-like symptoms, including a fever and muscle aches. His condition quickly deteriorated to more concerning symptoms like difficulty breathing, blisters on his face, and strange bruises on his lower body.
Despite being hospitalized and treated with antibiotics, the man went into septic shock and had a heart attack. His organs began to fail, and he suffered brain damage.
It wasn’t until four days into his hospitalized that doctors finally found the cause – a type of bacteria common in the saliva of household cats and dogs, according to a case report published in September in the European Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine. After 16 days of treatment, the man was taken off life support and died.
The bacteria, called Capnocytophaga, are common in pets, and can be spread through bites, scratches, or any contact with animal saliva. When spread to humans, about 25% of Capnocytophag infections are fatal, according to the case study. But fortunately, most people who come in contact with the bacteria don’t get sick at all.
Although infections are rare, as many as 74% of dogs carry this type of bacteria
While serious Capnocytophaga infections in humans is rare, the bacteria itself is common in healthy cats and dogs. As many as 74% of dogs have the bacteria in their mouths, and never get sick themselves. Cats are also hosts to Capnocytophaga,although they’re less likely to transmit it to humans.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Thomas Butler previously told Insider that Capnocytophaga bacteria can be spread when saliva comes in contact with an open wound, anywhere the skin is broken, or a mucous membrane like your eyes, nose, or mouth. This is why a lick from your favourite furry friend, especially on your face, can be a problem.
While the man didn’t have any open wounds or bites from his dog, his dog did lick him.
The vast majority of people who interact with pets, though, won’t get sick. The elderly and people bitten by animals may be at risk, and serious cases tend to occur in people with compromised immune systems due to cancer, HIV, certain medications, other chronic illnesses, and even heavy drinking. This patient was unique because he had a healthy immune system.
New research has suggested there may also be a genetic link to severe infections.
A Capnocytophaga infection can cause flu-like symptoms
Blisters, fever, confusion, vomiting, and muscle and joint pain can appear anywhere from 1 to 14 days after exposure to the bacteria, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
The infection can escalate to potentially deadly complications like sepsis, a life-threatening inflammation caused by the body fighting off illness. High fever, chills, extreme pain, shortness of breath, high heart rate, dizziness, and clammy, sweaty skin are all signs of sepsis.
As scary as it sounds, the study’s authors conclude that the infection is still extremely rare, so don’t flee from your furry friends. Just be sure to wash thoroughly if you get slobbered on while playing with pets. And if you have unexplained flu-like symptoms, seek immediate treatment and let the medical staff know you have pets, the researchers suggest.
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