Never would we have ever guessed that sharing a smooch with your pup would lead to a near-death infection, but a recent case study published in the British Medical Journal reveals a health risk that we never knew could be lurking in our pets.
Per the report, a 70-year-old woman in the UK developed a life-threatening infection after being kissed by her dog (an Italian greyhound). After being found slumped over and slurring her speech, she was immediately admitted to the hospital, where doctors thought she may have suffered a minor stroke at first glance as her symptoms seemed to be improving. Four days later, however, she soon took a turn for the worst, experiencing headaches, chills, high fever, sudden kidney failure and severe sepsis.
A blood test soon after revealed Capnocytophaga canimorsus in her blood—a bacterial infection typically found in the mouths of dogs and cats—showing an intense poisoning of the blood. While doctors only usually see this type of infection in humans after being scratched or bitten by an animal (basically, when the wound breaks the skin), this woman’s case revealed that the skin does not need to be broken for the bacteria to penetrate.
Stephen Cole, doctor of veterinary medicine and clinical and molecular biology fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Women’s Health that Capnocytophaga canimorsus is a normal part of your pet’s saliva, but that we shouldn’t worry, as this type of infection is extremely rare in humans. Like many infections, the super young and the very old tend to find themselves more at risk for this type of infection, which is probably why this 70-year-old woman was so vulnerable to the sickness.
“The important thing to remember is that all animals carry bacteria, so you should always be practicing good hygiene when you’re handling them,” says Cole. While a good snuggle with your canine friend is nothing to rethink, be sure you’re washing your hands, being mindful of giving them food off your plate and making sure they don’t lick any open wounds.
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