An English woman found herself in a hospital with a life-threatening infection from an unexpected source: The affectionate licking of her Italian greyhound.
The 70-year-old’s story was detailed in the BMJ Case Reports medical journal by doctors at the Department of Medicine for the Elderly at the University College London Hospitals.
According to the report, a relative noticed the woman’s speech had become slurred while on the phone. Soon, she had stopped responding.
Paramedics arrived to find the woman losing consciousness and rushed her to hospital.
The woman regained consciousness, but after a few days, doctors discovered her kidneys were failing. Her blood tested positive for sepsis, or blood poisoning.
Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection, according to Mayo Clinic. When a person’s body tries to fight off an infection, the chemicals released into the bloodstream can cause inflammation and organ failure. The condition is “most common and most dangerous” in the elderly, notes Mayo Clinic.
The woman’s serious condition was a “medical mystery” for her doctors, according to CBS News. None of the typical sources of blood poisoning seemed to apply to this case.
After numerous tests, doctors discovered the presence of a bacterium called Capnocytophage canimorsus, which is commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats.
According to the report, the bacterium is usually transmitted through dog bites or scratches. In this case, the woman did not have any broken skin or inflammation that would lead doctors to suspect infection caused by a dog.
The woman did own an Italian greyhound, which doctors discovered licked the woman as she petted him. This, they believe, was the source of the infection.
The woman made a full recovery after two weeks of intensive care.
Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital, New York, called the case “very unusual.” He told CBS that people should exercise caution when allowing dogs to lick them, especially for the elderly or newborn babies.
While such infections can be serious, Farber says this is no reason not to be affectionate with pets. “The last thing you want to do is alarm people that they’ll be infected if they get licked or kissed by a dog.”