The title gives it away: "Single, uninsured Ottawa mom loses three limbs to rare illness."

My first thought? Another Capnocytophaga canimorsus infection.

That’s what is was – another rare but devastating infection cause by this bacterium, which can be found in the mouth of pretty much any dog.

People get exposed to C. canimorsus very commonly, but rarely does disease develop. The news article doesn’t provide a lot of information from a medical standpoint. There’s no mention of whether the woman in this case had any of the common risk factors for C. canimorsus infection, but it’s highly likely. The big risk group is people who don’t have a working spleen, as the spleen is an important immune organ that helps fight off infections by certain microorganisms, such as this one.

One notable statement from the article is "Since 1976 only about 200 septic shock cases caused by Capnocytophaga canimorsus have been reported worldwide, Health Canada says." I’m not sure from where that information came, and it might be something that is written on a Health Canada site, but you have to take statements like this with a grain of salt. Specifically, what does "reported" mean? Usually, they’re talking about published case reports. However, most infections don’t end up in the medical literature. This one presumably won’t either, since (devastating though it was for the patient) it’s probably a rather typical C. canimorsus infection. Considering how often there are news reports about these infections and the number of calls and emails I get about them, 200 cases over the past 20-30 years is a massive underestimation. That’s not to say that C. canimorsus is common, a serious threat to the average person or something that’s on the rise. It’s just not as rare as some people may think.

Pet owners who don’t have a spleen (or whose spleen isn’t functional), have a compromised immune system or are alcoholics are the big risk group for serious infections by this bacterium.  These individuals should:

  • Know about C. canimosus
  • Make sure their physician knows they own a pet
  • Avoid contact with dog saliva, and
  • Make sure that they seek medical care after any bite (not matter how minor it may seem)