JUL 13, 2016 07:44 AM PDT

Diagnosed: Woman Contracted Sepsis from Her Dog's Licks

In a new study, ominously titled “The Lick of Death,” doctors report friendly licks from her beloved Italian greyhound sent a woman to the ER with a near deadly blood infection. The case report detailed a microbe living in the dog’s mouth as the cause of the infection. That a simple lick could have transmitted the bug from dog to human alarmed the doctors, and the incident probably adds a compelling reason against doggy kisses and licks.
Doggy kisses sent a woman to the hospital with sepsis | Image: pixabay.com
 The patient is a 70-year-old woman from the United Kingdom who was admitted to the ER from what doctors thought to be seizures. However, her condition deteriorated quickly – she suffered from fevers, chills, diarrhea, and sudden kidney failure. Doctors then diagnosed her with severe sepsis – a potentially lethal inflammatory reaction to infection involving the whole blood system.
Lab results revealed the woman was infected with Capnocytophaga canimorsus, a bacteria that’s part of the normal flora in the mouths of dogs and cats. C. canimorsus is often transmitted to humans through bites or scratches. But the doctors did not note any signs of broken skin on the woman. She did, however, report close contact with her dog, including letting the dog lick her face. Transmission of C. canimorsus through saliva contact is rare, but have been documented.
"[C. canimorsus] is an organism carried in the mouths of dog and it causes a very bad sepsis infection. But it's usually in people who are immunocompromised and usually follows a dog bite. But this is unusual because it was a lick," said Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York.

Farber mentioned that he’s only seen about two such cases in his 30 years of treating infectious diseases. Others concur that such severe infection is typically very rare. Thus, Farber says, "The last thing you want to do is alarm people that they'll be infected if they get licked or kissed by a dog."
At the same time, he and the authors of the study echo the same sentiment: we should be more aware of the microbes our pets carry and how it may be transmitted into our systems, especially for infants, the elderly, and others who may be immunocompromised.
"This report highlights that [C. canimorsus] infection can occur without overt scratch or bite injuries," the doctors wrote in their study. "It also reminds us that the elderly are at higher risk of infection [with this bacterium], perhaps due to age-related immune dysfunction and increasing pet ownership," they said.
With prompt treatment of antibiotics, the woman is reported to be in full recovery.

Additional source: CBS News
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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