Man dies after being licked by his dog – after catching a deadly infection from his animal’s saliva

How could an innocent lick from a beloved dog cause such a deadly infection?
How could an innocent lick from a beloved dog cause such a deadly infection?

An unidentified 63-year-old man died after catching a rare infection from being licked by his dog.

The bacteria called Capnocytophaga canimorsus can be found in animal saliva and is usually transmitted through a bite. In this case, however, a lick was enough to cause a deadly infection.

According to the case study published in the European Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine, bite infections caused by these bacteria are usually only reported in patients with a compromised immune system.

The 63-year-old man was, however, healthy, with no pre-existing medical conditions. He presented with flu-like symptoms and struggled to breathe. After a period of two-weeks, his condition worsened. An infection similar to sepsis caused pneumonia and an extremely high fever of 41°C.

Doctors diagnosed him with severe sepsis and he was moved to intensive care. A condition known as purpura fulminans also caused him to develop a bruise-like rash all over his face and legs – as a result of his vascular system shutting down.

Despite valiant efforts from his medical team, the infection spread to his vital organs, causing his kidneys and liver to shut down. He eventually suffered cardiac arrest and was put on life support.

His condition kept on deteriorating, with fungus developing on his lungs, blisters all over his body, as well as fluid-build up on his brain, which resulted in permanent damage. His family agreed to have his life support switched off, as there was nothing more they could do for him.  

How does a rare infection cause death in a healthy man?

Medical experts were perplexed by this case. Doctors stated that only people with severely constrained immune systems are likely to develop an infection from C. canimorsus, and if so, an infection would far more likely result from a bite than a lick.

According to a Netherlands study, these bacteria are so rare that they only affect one in every 1.5 million people and only cause death in 31% of cases.

There was no open wound or predisposition that could lead to an infection in the first place, doctors reported.

While such bizarre events are extremely rare, doctors urge pet owners to always take care. Dr Naomi Mader, who led the team, stated: “Pet owners with flu-like symptoms should urgently seek medical advice when their symptoms exceed those of a simple viral infection. Physicians confronted with such patients should ask about contact with dogs and cats.”

There's no need for immediate panic when Fluffy gives you his signature slobbery kisses, but always consult a doctor when presenting with symptoms other than those of ordinary viral flu.

Image credit: iStock

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