It might just be my perception, but it seems like there are a lot more reports of nasty dog bite infections in the news lately, particularly infections caused by the bacterium Capnocytophaga canimorsus. I don’t know whether that’s because they are becoming more common, more commonly diagnosed (since the bug is hard to identify), more commonly reported in the press or a combination of all three (or whether my perception is simply incorrect).
The latest report is from Omaha, Nebraska, where a 50-year-old man died four days after suffering a minor dog bite on the cheek. The cause of infection wasn’t reported, but the article says that he was unable to fight the infection because he didn’t have a spleen. For me, minor bite + fatal infection + no spleen = Capnocytophaga infection until proven otherwise, since this is a textbook description of such an infection, and Capnocytophaga can be found in the mouth of virtually every dog.
This follows the high-profile case of a cancer survivor who lost her hands and feet from Capnocytophaga infection complications and a UK inquest into the death of a man caused by infection with this bacterium, among other cases.
Here are the simple take home messages:
- Avoid bites and any interactions whereby dog saliva may come in contact with non-intact skin.
- Know if you are at high-risk for an infection caused by a bug like Capnocytophaga. This bacterium typically doesn’t cause disease in healthy individuals but can produce rapidly fatal disease in certain people.
- Realize that minor bites can cause major problems (even if you are otherwise healthy).
- Use good first aid practices if you or someone you’re with is bitten, including careful washing of the wound and seeking medical care if you are at increased risk of infection, or if the bite is over the hands, feet, face, joints or other sensitive areas.