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A Rare Illness With an Unexpected Cause

Updated: Feb 8, 2020

A woman spent 9 days in a coma, and had her arms and legs amputated as a result from a lick from her German Shepherd puppy. The cause? A bacteria known as capnocytophaga infected an open wound where the lick occurred. The CDC defines Capnocytophaga as a bacteria that lives in the mouths of dogs, or cats. The CDC also states: these germs can spread to people through bites, scratches, or close contact from a dog or cat and may cause illness, including sepsis. Most peoplewho have contact with a dog or cat do not become sick. People with a weakened immune systems who have difficulty fighting off infections (for example, people with cancer or those taking certain medications such as steroids) are at greater riskof becoming ill.

People who are infected with Capnocytophaga can have a range of signs and symptoms such as:

  1. Blisters around the bite wound within hours of the bite

  2. Redness, swelling, draining pus, or pain at the bite wound

  3. Fever

  4. Diarrhea and/or stomach pain

  5. Vomiting

  6. Headache and/or confusion

  7. Muscle or joint pain

After being infected, most people who become ill will show symptoms within 3 to 5 days, but this can range anywhere from 1 to 14 days.

Most Capnocytophaga infections usually occur with dog or cat bites. But some people who develop a Capnocytophagainfection have not been bitten. People may be infected after close contact with a dog or cat, especially after contact with the animal’s saliva (spit). Contact your doctor immediately if you’ve been bitten, even if you don’t feel any symptoms, especially if the animal may be thought to have rabies. Always be sure to tend to any wounds properly, and take proper care of your own hygiene. For dog owners, be sure to take your pets security and dental care seriously.

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