All of our pets carry bacteria in their mouths, but news shows that one common variety might be more dangerous than others.
In a recent case in England, a 70-year-old woman contracted a life-threatening infection after her Italian greyhound licked her, CBS News reports. She developed slurred speech, became unresponsive and suffered from confusion, headaches, diarrhea, fever and kidney problems. Doctors diagnosed her as having sepsis, aka blood poisoning, which they were finally able to trace back to one thing: Capnocytophaga canimorsus, a bacteria that lives in dogs’ and cats’ mouths.
Her story is most definitely a scary one, but don’t start panicking quite yet: Life-threatening cases like this one are incredibly rare. Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, spoke with CBS News about the English woman’s infection:
“This is an organism carried in the mouths of dogs, and it causes a very bad sepsis infection. 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.”
A 2006 study on the bacteria confirms Dr. Farber’s reassuring words. Although the study’s authors do write that Capnocytophaga canimorsus is the main bacteria associated with dog bites (there are no mentions of licking being a cause of infection in this report), they also write that those at the most risk of developing illness are those who have had a splenectomy and those who abuse alcohol (read: those with immunodeficiencies).
It’s important to note that this elevated risk applies to infants, as well, as they also have less efficient immune systems. “Dogs shouldn’t be licking newborn babies,” Dr. Farber told CBS News. “At about after two to three months, then everything’s fine.”
If you do happen to contract a Capnocytophaga canimorsus infection, Dr. Farber told CBS News that your first symptoms might look a lot like any other illness: fever, chills, sweats and a lack of energy. You will, however, fall ill much more quickly than you would with a more commonplace infection. Thankfully, though, Dr. Farber also says that the infection is easily treated with antibiotics like penicillin.
Ultimately, Dr. Farber wants us to know that we shouldn’t live in fear of getting affection from our pets. “The last thing you want to do is alarm people that they’ll be infected if they get licked or kissed by a dog,” Dr. Farber told CBS News. And if you become worried after a bite, lick or scratch from a pet? Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and concerns.
[h/t CBS News]