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Dec 14th: Manchester man suffers serious infection after being licked by his dog

A man was left in hospital with a very serious infection he caught from his pet dog.   The man became infected when he allowed his dog to lick an open wound. As a result he spent six weeks in a coma with large blisters covering his body. The infection also affected his kidneys – leaving him requiring dialysis

Wound-licking is an instinctive response in dogs – as well as many animals including cats – to encourage healing. Their saliva contains enzymes and proteins which kill certain bacteria and promote blood-clotting mechanisms. However, letting pets lick open wounds is not advisable.

Capnocytophaga is a genus of Gram-negative bacteria, normally found in the mouth and respiratory tract of mammals including dogs. Capnocytophaga is a “commensal species” (i.e it is not usually harmful) but it is an opportunistic pathogen (i.e it can cause infection when the opportunity arises). This bacterium is involved in different types of infections the severity of which depends on the immune status of the patient.  Although it is not infectious if applied to healthy skin, it can overcome our immune system defences if it is applied to an open wound or through a dog bite.   People who are most at risk are those who are elderley or are immune-compromised through underlying diseases such as HIV/AIDS or diabetes or through drug treatments which affect the immune system. Capnocytophaga are usually susceptible to antibiotics, but resistant strains can occur.

Although we have heard a lot about the beneficial effects of having a pet, which may derive from exposure to their “normal bacterial flora”, we must never forget that they also carry microbes which can be harmful to us.

This may be a 1 in a million risk, but it stresses the importance of ensuring that we do not allow our pets to lick open wounds – even small cuts and abrasions, and always washing our hands after handling pets, to reduce the risks of hand to mouth and hand to wound contact.

Further details see http://tiny.cc/5izqhy