Doctors have warned that dogs can cause sepsis in humans just by licking them. This came after an elderly British woman became critically ill.
The 70-year-old ended up in intensive care with multiple organ failure after contracting a rare infection from her Italian greyhound, reports Daily Mail.
The woman’s relative raised the alarm after she started slurring on the phone and then was unresponsive. When paramedics found her, she was slumped semi-conscious in a chair.
At the hospital, her symptoms initially improved, but after four days she developed acute kidney failure and was admitted to intensive care.
Blood tests revealed an infection of Capnocytophaga canimorsus bacteria – a rare but serious cause of sepsis which is often found in the mouths of cats and dogs.
It is believed the bacteria which can live in cavities in dogs’ mouths was passed on to her from her pet which would often lick her.
British doctors described how she nearly died after the infection caused her to develop sepsis in an online journal called BMJ Case Reports.
Known as the ‘silent killer’, sepsis happens when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight an infection and can lead to organ failure and death without rapid treatment.
After two weeks of intensive care and antibiotic treatment, she recovered and was finally discharged 30 days after she was first admitted.
Doctors reporting the case said, ‘This is an interesting case because neither scratch nor bite was established, although close petting including licks was reported.”
Experts say that elderly people are more at risk because their immune systems may be weaker and because they are more likely to own pets.
Diseases transmitted from pets frequently go undiagnosed and the report authors warned doctors to be alert for pets passing on bacteria particularly to the elderly.
They said: ‘This report highlights that infection can occur without overt scratch or bite injuries.
“It also reminds us that the elderly are at higher risk of infection, perhaps due to age-related immune dysfunction and increasing pet ownership.”
More than 3,000 people die of sepsis in Australia each year, the burden of death from sepsis is greater than the annual national road toll and sepsis causes more deaths than breast, prostate or colo-rectal cancer.
Earlier this year it was revealed the number of patients admitted to hospitals nationwide with the condition had surged by 50 per cent in five years to almost 400 a day.
The growing problem is thought to be fuelled by increasing antibiotic resistance, the ageing population and more patients undergoing surgery which puts them at risk of infection.
It can affect patients of any age but is more likely to occur in young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
Experts have claimed the Government and NHS have been ‘too slow’ to raise public awareness on the issue, despite damning reports revealing how children have died from the illness.
In January, it was revealed that one-year-old William Mead died from sepsis after helpline staff missed the signs and in March, a nine-year-old boy died after being sent home by doctors with a ‘mild chest infection’.
At the same time, scientists also believe the microbes lurking in a dog’s gut could have a probiotic effect on the owners’ body.
Researchers at the University of Arizona, are recruiting volunteers to take part in a study which will focus specifically on the effect dogs have on the health of older people.