Woman nearly dies after pet dog licks her face

Greyhound's 'kisses' thought to have caused life-threatening infection

(Image credit: VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images)

A 70-year-old woman nearly died after contracting an infection from her greyhound's "kisses", according to The BMJ.

The unnamed woman was speaking to a relative on the phone when she started slurring her speech, says the doctors' magazine. The relative raised the alarm after the woman became unresponsive.

Paramedics found the woman unconscious in a chair and took her to hospital.

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She was first thought to have suffered a seizure, as she has a history of epilepsy. However, her symptoms grew worse over four days, with a headache, fever, chills and diarrhoea. She was found to have suffered sudden kidney failure.

Blood tests showed she had become infected with a bacterium called Capnocytophaga canimorsus, which is found in the mouths of dogs and cats and can cause sepsis if transmitted to humans.

The woman spent two weeks in intensive care being treated with antibiotics. Around 30 days after she was admitted to hospital, she was released and was able to return home. The BMJ does not say if she kept her dog.

Licked, not bitten

The case was notable because the bacterium is usually transmitted via a bite or scratch, but the patient had not been bitten. Instead, she had been in close proximity to her dog and allowed herself to be licked.

According to medics who studied her case, the woman was particularly at risk because her age made it harder for her body to fight infections. Old people are also more likely to own pets and therefore more likely to be exposed to such bacteria.

The Daily Mail says only 13 cases of sepsis contracted via Capnocytophaga canimorsus have been reported in the UK in the past 26 years – and more than a quarter of these patients died.

Sepsis, which has other causes, too, is thought to be responsible for 30,000 deaths a year in Britain, adds the paper. There are no official figures.

Good dog bacteria?

The Mail reports that not all canine bacteria are bad for humans: researchers at the University of Arizona believe one of the evolutionary imperatives behind having dogs as pets could be that they harbour bacteria which help people.

The theory is that dogs may have bacteria in their guts which help digestion when introduced into human systems and these could be transmitted by pets to their owners.

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