There have been several articles published this week regarding a very rare infection from a bacterium called Capnocytophaga, which a man contracted resulting in multiple limb amputation. (How does dog saliva turn into a life-threatening infection?)
The articles state that he likely contracted the organism from his dog's mouth. Before you panic about your daily dose of dog kisses, let's review some facts about this bacterium.
What is Capnocytophaga?
Capnocytophaga are fusiform Gram-negative bacilli and may be commensal flora in the mouth. Many species of this bacterium are considered to be normal. In fact, according to the CDC Capnocytophaga is found in up to 74% of dog mouths and 57% of cat mouths. It can also be found in the human mouth and throat.
If it is so common, then why would someone become so ill from it?
It is an opportunistic infection, most commonly occurring in those with a weakened immune system (people with HIV, cancer, diabetes, alcoholism, etc.), but anyone could become sick.
These bacteria gain access to the blood stream and can then set up shop in various parts of the body and may lead to septicemia, endocarditis, abscesses, etc. It can be an endogenous infection (meaning the human is a carrier themself) or could be contracted by a pet with the bacteria, through licking or saliva or via a bite. The majority of actual infections are caused by dog or cat bites.
This is why those of us in the profession should be aware of this bacterium and get appropriate treatment for bites when they occur.
What are the symptoms and treatment?
Fever, GI upset, headache, muscle or joint pain, and swelling/redness/blisters around a bite wound can be symptoms. If a person becomes infected or ill will have symptoms 3-5 days after exposure but could be up to 2 weeks.
The infection can become severe and, in some cases, fatal within 24-72 hours, so if you are symptomatic after a bite, or have a weak immune system you should seek medical care right away. The treatment includes antibiotics and intensive supportive care for sepsis. In some cases surgeries are required to remove/control areas of infection.
Lori Hehn is a practicing veterinarian and a contributor and content manager with XPrep Learning Solutions. She has a drive for continual learning and enjoys interacting with veterinary and vet tech students. She also writes veterinary learning books for children.