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Close Contact With Dog Or Cat Can Give Deadly Bacterial Infection, Even Without Biting You.

Written by on May 25, 2021

Experts have warned pet owners and anyone who have pets around them to take seriously any bite, especially by pets such as dogs and cats.

Medical experts maintain that there is a ‘knowledge gap’ in the medical profession about the Capncytophagia canimorsus, a bacteria which is commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats.

Members of the public are warned that, in addition to the fact that the bacteria can cause illness in humans through bites or if the animals lick any part of your body — including hand and face — merely being in close proximity with the animals can lead to the deadly infection.

Capnocytophaga is spread through saliva. Most cases occur after a bite wound, but the bacteria can be transmitted through exposure to saliva itself, for example from a dog lick,” experts warn.

Up to 74 percent of dogs and 57 percent of cats have some form of capnocytophaga in their mouths, according to the United States Centres for Disease Control.

Physicians gave the warning after a London author and designer, Mrs. Stacey Alexander-Harriss, died as a result of an overwhelming bacterial infection caused by a dog bite.

As reported by Yahoo News, Mrs. Alexander-Harriss was bitten by a small poodle on June 15 last year as she walked her two bull terriers beside the Thames at Canada Water, prior to visiting a friend on her first day out after the lifting of the first lockdown.

A stranger’s dog — a poodle — was fighting with one of Stacey’s bull terriers, but as she attempted to rescue the poodle, it bit her.

Her friend cleaned and bandaged the bite. But Mrs Alexander-Harriss did not seek a tetanus injection as she had had one several years earlier that offered her protection.

She started to feel unwell the following day, and worse the day after, displaying symptoms akin to food poisoning.

Her husband, Nick Harriss, called the NHS 111 helpline, informed the doctor he spoke with about the dog bite, and an ambulance was dispatched. She was admitted to Accident & Emergency at King George hospital.

She was later taken from A&E to intensive care as her situation, which was misdiagnosed as COVID-19, worsened.

She died less than 12 hours after being taken by ambulance to King George hospital, in Ilford, her husband said.

How do you know if your dog or cat has Capnocytophaga Canimorsus?

“The most common initial signs of a systemic Capnocytophaga canimorsus infection are fever, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea, and reduced energy and weakness. Additional more serious signs occur as the disease progresses and results in a greater than 30 percent mortality rate,” vet doctors say.

What are the symptoms of Capnocytophaga?

The CDC says that people who are infected with Capnocytophaga can have a range of signs and symptoms such as:

  • Blisters around the bite wound within hours of the bite
  • Redness, swelling, draining pus, or pain at the bite wound
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea and/or stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Headache and/or confusion
  • Muscle or joint pain

Why you shouldn’t let your dog or cat lick your face, eyes, nose or mouth

Experts warn that the primary mode of transmission of Capncytophagia canimorsus is through contact of animal saliva with broken skin. It has been estimated that in 54 percent of human cases, transmission was via a bite and 8.5 percent via a scratch.

“This is because disease-carrying saliva can be absorbed more readily through the membranes in a person’s mouth, eyes and nose; so, it’s best to avoid letting your dog or cat lick those parts of your face,” CDC counsels.

Doctors ignorant of Capncytophagia canimorsus

East London coroner, Nadia Persaud, said in a narrative verdict that Mrs. Alexander-Harriss “died as a result of an overwhelming bacterial infection caused by a dog bite.”

The coroner has subsequently sent a ‘prevention of future deaths report’ to Public Health England, warning there is a “knowledge gap” in the medical profession about the bacteria, Capncytophagia canimorsus, which is commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats.

Persaud said that raising awareness could prevent similar tragedies – adding that the earlier administration of antibiotics “might have made a difference” to saving Mrs. Alexander-Harriss.

The victim’s husband, Mr. Harriss, said the hospital had told him that his wife’s death, last  June 18, “looks like covid,” though he knew she had displayed none of the obvious COVID-19 symptoms, and her illness had appeared very rapidly.

“It was not a severe wound, which is where I think a lot of the problems came from,” he said.

“If it had been a severe wound or if she had been bitten by a Doberman rather than a little poodle, she probably would have gone to A&E, and they may have taken the wound itself more seriously.”

In September, tests on samples of blood taken at the time of her admission to hospital revealed the presence of the bacteria.

Mr. Harriss recalled: “The ambulance crew were not very concerned about the dog bite, but they were concerned about her blood pressure and heartbeat. There was no obvious sign of infection and the wound was clean. They were particularly concerned she was very dehydrated after her sickness.

“It’s a very unusual occurrence. However, it’s concerning that A&E doctors are unaware that a dog bite which isn’t oozing pus or is a wound that needs stitches might still be a problem where the patient is exhibiting the signs of sepsis.

“The big question is bluntly: if she had been pumped full of antibiotics as soon as she got there, would that have made a difference? What is clear is that the hospital didn’t regard the dog bite as a problem. They were convinced at the time that she had died of Covid, and much of her treatment was Covid-related.

“The A&E and ICU doctors admitted they were completely unaware of this type of bacteria when I questioned them at the inquest. Not giving her antibiotics straight away seems to me ridiculous.”


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