Part of me thinks this is interesting and part of me wonders why it’s noteworthy. Let’s go with the first thought and consider the interesting aspects of a presentation at the recent ASM Microbe 2019 Conference, “79 cases of pet-associated Pasteurella multocida infections in a 30-month period with reports of novel modes of non-bite transmission and their significance,” as reported by Healio Infectious Disease News.

Pasteurella multocida is a bacterium that’s commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats. So, not surprisingly, it’s commonly associated with bite infections. However, since it’s in saliva and exposure to dog/cat saliva isn’t uncommon, other routes of infection are possible. There are lots of case reports from things like dogs licking faces (causing ear infections) or wounds (e.g. cuts, diabetic ulcers, leading to wound infections), or infections of indwelling devices like feeding tubes and catheters (either from close contact of the animal with the insertion site or contamination of the person’s hands, resulting in contamination of the insertion site).  Anytime pet saliva reachs non-intact skin or mucous membranes (e.g. nose, mouth, eyes), there’s some, albeit low, risk of infection.

The conference presentation by Dr. Don Walter Kannangara described  79 cases of Pasteurella multocida infection in people over a 30 month period. 43% of those were not linked to a bite, which is a somewhat impressive number.

Twenty-nine cases were linked to cat bites, and 16 to dog bites. The rest had various assumed non-bite exposures, including:

  • Licking wounds or ulcers
  • A foot with a diabetic ulcer stepping on dog drool
  • “Falling down when drunk and contaminating abrasions with dog saliva” (Okay, that’s a new one for me)
  • “Epiglottitis (inflammation of a structure in the throat) after eating peanut butter and crackers that had been half-eaten by a dog” (Gross… also a new one for me)

The report has some interesting points but the take-home message remains unchanged: there is a variety of bacteria present in dog and cat saliva that can cause disease. It rarely occurs but it can, and it’s more common in people with wounds, compromised immune systems and the very young or very old.

  • Avoiding bites is obviously a key preventive measure.
  • Avoiding contact of dog and cat saliva with broken skin is another. The higher risk the person, the greater the required diligence in terms of avoiding saliva and responding promptly when there is contact (i.e.  washing).

A little common sense and hygiene go a long way.  Avoiding getting fall-down-drunk and not eating food partially consumed by dogs would fit into those categories as well.