A 70-year-old pensioner developed sepsis because she let her dog lick her frequently. The lady ended up in intensive care in hospital. She had multiple organ failure. She survived. She contracted a bacterial infection from her dog’s saliva. Bacteria, it is thought, in her dog’s mouth, had been passed to the lady when he frequently licked her. I’ll guess and say the the dog licked her face. The bacteria concerned is called Capnocytophaga canimorsus.
Research indicates that this particular bacteria is also present in a cat’s mouth. Theoretically, on the face of it, it would seem that the same sort of health risk could exist between cat and human but this would be incorrect in my opinion.
Wikipedia states that this bacteria is present in the “normal gingival flora of canine and feline species”. The bacteria has been observed to cause severe illness in persons with pre-existing conditions.The treatment is antibiotics, as can be imagined.
Doctors reporting on the case of the lady who developed sepsis say that it is interesting because the lady was not scratched or bitten but close petting included lots of licks.
It is important to note that according to the Daily Mail newspaper, only 13 cases of sepsis relating to this bacteria have been reported in the UK in the last 26 years. Of the 13 cases just over 25% of the patients died. Sixty percent were caused by a dog bite and 24% related to other forms of contact with the dog such as scratches.
Elderly people are more at risk because of their compromised immune systems. More than 60% of people who contract this infection are over 50-years-of-age.
Clearly, cat and dog owners who spend a lot of time with their companion animals are at greater risk. This would include veterinarians and breeders as well.
Wikipedia states that the chance of infection after a dog bite varies between 3 and 20%; for cats it may be as high as 50%.
In the United States, half of Americans are bitten by a dog during their lifetime. Around 1,000,000 Americans are bitten by a dog in one year (Wikipedia).
What can we take from this information? Well, it is the first time I have heard about this species of bacterial infection causing sepsis. My overriding impression is that it is extremely rare to develop sepsis from the saliva of dogs or cats. I am not able at this stage to find figures for the USA as to the number of infections. If anyone can help in a comment please do so.
This particular story is about a dog. The information that I have regarding this infection concerns transmission from dogs to humans. I have no information at this stage about this particular bacteria being transmitted from cats to people. The bacteria that causes cat scratch fever is different, by the way.
News media will pick up on this sort of thing and exaggerate it. It makes for a better story. That does not mean that there is not some risk and I would have thought that elderly people should be sensible and not let their dog lick them around the face too much. As for domestic cats, I for one will ignore the story and I suspect almost every other cat owner will as well.
Cats lick us on our hands normally which I will take as being much safer anyway as there is little chance of transmitting any bacteria to the interior of the human body via the hand.
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Source: Daily Mail Online