In Brief

Dog lick death: how dangerous is your canine’s mouth?

Man dies after contracting rare infection from his pet

A 63-year-old man has died from multi-organ failure after contracting a rare infection through his dog’s saliva, doctors have revealed.

The infection was caused by capnocytophaga canimorsus, a bacterium that is commonly found in the mouths of both dogs and cats, according to a paper in the European Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine.

It is transmitted to humans only in rare cases, and normally through an animal bite. But the journal paper on the recent fatal case, in Germany, says the man “had been touched and licked, but not bitten or injured, by his dog, his only pet, in previous weeks”. 

According to CNN, the man initially reported flu-like symptoms and then developed “severe sepsis and purpura fulminans”, a disorder that causes blood spots, bruising and discoloration of the skin.

Sky News adds that it was not until his fourth day in hospital that doctors diagnosed capnocytophaga canimorsus from blood tests, and accordingly boosted his antibiotic regime.

“But his brain began to swell and scans of his abdomen revealed blood flow was being cut off from some organs, including the spleen,” the broadcaster says.

His family and the doctors decided to turn off his life support following 16 days of treatment.

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In their paper outlining the case, the medics, from Rotes Kreuz Krankenhaus in Bremen, warn that “pet owners with banal, for instance flu-like, symptoms should urgently seek medical advice when symptoms are unusual”.

Although such cases are rare, doctors amputated an Ohio woman’s legs and hands in May after she contracted a capnocytophaga canimorsus infection, probably through being licked by her puppy. And a Wisconsin man’s nose and limbs were amputated last year after he contracted the same type of infection.

According to a 2016 report in the British Medical Journal, titled “Licked to death”, there have been just 13 reported cases of capnocytophaga canimorsus in the UK since 1990.

But sepsis, which the bacterium can cause, is responsible for an estimated 44,000 UK deaths each year - equivalent to around one person every five hours, the UK Sepsis Trust reports.

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