A paper in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases (Durdik et al 2010) describes a case of meningitis in an 11-month-old child caused by S. intermedius. (Presumably, the bacterium was actually S. pseudintermedius and they’re behind the times on identification of / nomenclature of this bacterium). This is the first report of this bacterium as a cause of meningitis in people, and obviously it’s a concern because of the potential severity of meningitis. Fortunately, the child made a full recovery with proper treatment.

S. pseudintermedius is a normal inhabitant of the skin and other body sites in dogs, and is found less commonly in cats. In this case, the child’s family owned a dog, but the dog lived outside and no direct contact was reported between the child and the dog. Indirect contact, such as someone bringing the bacterium in on their hands after touching the dog, would certainly be a possible route of transmission. Unfortunately, the authors of this study did not investigate the dog as the potential source and there was no attempt to isolate the same bacterium from the dog. The dog is certainly a likely source of infection here since S. pseudintermedius is not commonly found in people, and when it is, it is often associated with dog-contact.

There seems to have been an increase in reports of Staphylococcus intermedius/pseudintermedius infections in people lately. Reports are still very rare but there have been a couple in the past six months. That could be because there are more infections, but it could also be that people are just writing up the cases or that labs are getting better at identifying the organism. Overall, the number of apparent human infections caused by this dog-associated bacterium is very low.  While it is clearly a bacterium that can infect people, the risks to people in contact with pets is also very low. “Low” doesn’t mean “no”, however, and the very low but not negligible risk of S. pseudintermedius infection is just one of many reasons to pay close attention to good hygiene practices around pets, and ensure that your physician knows if you have pets.