The family of a Washington state man is suing a dog owner after the man was bitten and developed a fatal infection. News reports are somewhat sketchy and contain some inconsistent information, but it appears that Kenneth Bock was bitten by Buddy, a coon hound, at his place of work. There are conflicting stories about how the bite occurred. Some reports say that the dog was roaming freely, while the owner’s lawyer says Mr. Bock was bitten while reaching into the vehicle where Buddy was sitting. Apparently, the dog had bitten someone else at the same business earlier that day, so it’s clear this dog and/or its owner had some issues. Regardless, the bite occurred and blood was drawn, but at the time the bite seemed to be minor. However, Mr. Bock developed a severe infection and died a week later.
Buddy was euthanized a few days after the bite. That in itself is an issue, because any dog that has bitten someone needs to be observed for 10 days to ensure it does not show signs of rabies infection or, if it must be euthanized within 10 days of the bite, the dog needs to be tested for rabies after euthanasia. Mr. Bock was still alive at the time Buddy was euthanized, so Buddy’s rabies status should have been confirmed by observation or testing. Any veterinarian euthanizing an animal is required to ask whether the animal has bitten anyone in the last 10 days. None of the reports say whether or not the dog was tested.
The news reports also don’t provide much information about the infection. They say that the Mr. Bock had another medical condition that put him at increased risk for infection. It could be that he had lost his spleen and he developed an infection with Capnocytophaga canimorsus. This bacterium, which is present in the mouth of most dogs, almost exclusively causes disease in people that have had their spleen removed (as well as alcoholics) and rapidly fatal infections can ensue. There are also a variety of other conditions that affect the immune system and which can thereby put someone at higher risk for various bacterial infections.
Even innocuous-appearing bites can be bad news. People need to protect themselves from bites, and know what to do if a bite occurs.
- Make sure you know if you are in a high-risk group. If you have a compromised immune system, which includes having had your spleen removed, you need to be aware that you are at particularly high risk for severe complications of any bite. Any high-risk individuals who are bitten should seek prompt medical care.
- Be careful around dogs. This is particularly true for dogs you don’t know, dogs that have a history of being aggressive, and dogs that are in a confined space like a car. They may perceive this as a "den" and interpret someone new near them as an intrusion into their space.
- Use common sense if you own a dog that has shown ANY tendency to be aggressive. An aggressive, territorial or fearful dog is not a dog to be taking out in public. Any aggressive tendencies must be addressed immediately.
- Don’t take pets to stores. You never know who will be there. There may be people who are very allergic or fearful of dogs. Even if you have the nicest dog on the planet, not everyone wants to be forced to be around it.