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What Is the Bacteria That Cause People to Develop Infections From Dog Licks?

Could being licked by a dog truly be fatal?

The answer is yes. A 63-year-old man in Germany died after he was licked by a dog last month. 

And the culprit? A bacterium called Capnocytophaga canimorsus, which is usually found in the mouths of dogs and cats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria usually doesn't affect healthy people, but those who have weakened immune systems, or who drink in excess, can be at a greater risk for C. animorsus infections. 

In this case, however, doctors said the man had neither risk factor. He was seemingly healthy before he began experiencing fever, discolored skin, breathing trouble and leg pain. When he was admitted to the hospital, his organs began failing, and despite an aggressive antibiotic treatment, he died 16 days later, according to the European Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine.

Severe injuries resulting from dog licks have been a significant talking point in the news. A recently woman lost her all her limbs due to Capnocytophaga after her dog licked a small cut on her wrist, the woman told Inside Edition. Her body had gone into septic shock and she was in a coma for ten days. In another case, a Wisconsin man lost his legs due to petting a dog. He was at a party near his  home when he touched a group of dogs in the swimming pool. He said he forgot to wash his hands after.

How Is the Bacterium Spread to People?

Capnocytophaga germs can spread through bites, scratches, or close contact from a dog or cat can cause illness, according to the CDC.  

Doctors do warn people to see a doctor if a dog licks a cut or scratch on the skin. 

How Common Is Infection?

Although the common bacterium is found in about 75% of dogs, the chances of developing an infection from a lick are extremely rare, doctors say. 

"It is a one in over a million,” orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ajay Seth told Inside Edition. 

Thirty percent of people who develop a more serious infection from the bacterium die because it can progress rapidly, often within the first 24-72 hours of symptom onset, the CDC said.

What Are the Signs of Infection?

People infected by the bacterium may see blisters develop very soon around the bite. There may also be redness, swelling, pus and pain at the site. The person may also experience fever, stomach pain, vomiting, headache and joint pain.

How Is the Infection Treated?

People should immediately wash the bite area with warm soap and water to keep it clean. They should seek medical care immediately if they develop symptoms within 14 days of having contact with the animal. The infection can be treated with antibiotics.

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