If you love getting kisses on the lips from your dog or cat, know that dogs and cats have bacteria in their mouths that are capable of causing sepsis in humans, making them sick. An elderly woman in England found this out the hard way.
The 70-year-old woman’s case, described in the medical journal BMJ Case Reports, states she was licked by her Italian Greyhound and then initially developed symptoms of slurred speech and became unresponsive. At the hospital, her condition improved, but then took a turn for the worse as she became confused and suffered from headaches, diarrhea and a high fever. Her kidneys also began to fail.
She was eventually diagnosed with Capnocytophaga canimorsus, described as a “commensal bacterium found in the normal gingival flora of canine and feline species.” It is transmitted to humans through bites, licks, and being in close proximity to animals. The woman spent two weeks in intensive care; with antibiotics, she fully recovered.
Although rare, the transfer of the bacteria from dogs and cats to humans can have a detrimental effect on a person who is sensitive to the bacteria. And doctors have known about the bacteria for a long time.
“This is an organism carried in the mouths of dog and it causes a very bad sepsis infection,” Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, told CBS News. “But it’s usually in people who are immuno-compromised and usually follows a dog bite. But this is unusual because it was a lick. I’ve probably seen two cases in 30 years of doing infectious disease.”
The doctors who authored the paper, “The lick of death: Capnocytophaga canimorsus is an important cause of sepsis in the elderly,” emphasized that licks from your dog can also transmit the bacterium, and not just bites.
“This report highlights that infection can occur without overt scratch or bite injuries. It also reminds us that the elderly are at higher risk of infection, perhaps due to age-related immune dysfunction and increasing pet ownership,” the doctors, who are with the Department of Medicine for the Elderly at the University College London Hospitals, wrote in their paper.
While Capnocytophaga canimorsus can cause a person to become incredibly ill, especially those with compromised immune systems, the use of common antibiotics such as penicillin and its penicillin cousins are effective, Farber told CBS News.
Farber did say that other than with the very young (less than three months of age) the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, these types of cases are rare.
“The last thing you want to do is alarm people that they’ll be infected if they get licked or kissed by a dog,” Farber said.