News outlet WTMJ-TV is reporting that the death of a woman in Wisconsin may be attributable to an infection that was transferred from a dog.
Sharon Larson, who just obtained the puppy, was given a small nip, which caused a cut. She was rushed to the hospital shortly after suffering from influenza-like symptoms and was put on a course of antibiotics. Larson subsequently died two days after the incident.
This incident has echoes of another recently reported in the media: the curious, grim case of one Greg Manteufel, who – after being licked by a dog – experienced fever, vomiting and what appeared to be the appearance of bruises all over his skin. After several of his limbs were amputated after antibiotics failed to stop the spread of the disease, it was confirmed he was suffering from sepsis.
Sepsis is an extremely dangerous complication related to blood poisoning via bacterial infiltration. If it’s not quickly treated, it can lead to multiple organ failure and death.
The bacteria in question has been the same both times: the Capnocytophaga genus, perhaps of the species canimorsus. As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they are commonly found in the mouths of cats, dogs, and humans. They can cause dangerous infections when the right conditions arise: if the patient has a compromised immune system, if they drink alcohol excessively, if they lack a spleen, or if they have cancer or HIV, for example.
Members of the Capnocytophaga genus can be found in 57 percent of cats, and 74 percent of dogs. They can spread to people through licks, but more commonly through bites. You can even get infected by the bacteria in your own mouth, something known as an endogenous infection.
Such infections can cause eye infections, gum disease, and respiratory tract infections, but if the bacteria enter the bloodstream – say, through said bites or open wounds – you can get blood poisoning, the inflammation of the heart’s lining, or collections of pus in various body tissues.
It’s important not to blow this out of proportion, though. These incidents do happen, with another making headlines in 2016, for example. Nevertheless, the CDC stresses that these infections are opportunistic, which means they don’t occur in everybody, or even most people. Medical experts that have handled these cases note that they are very rare, unfortunate “flukes”.
“I was told she could get struck by lightning four times and live, win the lottery twice … that’s how rare this is supposed to be,” Sharon Larson’s husband, Dan Larson, told WTMJ.
The CDC recommends that those that could be at risk of such an infection should seek professional medical advice as to how best handle living near or with pets. For everyone else, enjoy your fluffy companions, and make sure to let cuts and the like heal.