Two recent cases of a rare infection are raising awareness — and anxiety — about the risks of interacting with dogs and cats.
Sharon Larson of South Milwaukee died on June 23 at age 58, after her dog nipped her hand. Starting that same month, Greg Manteufel, 48, of nearby West Bend, Wisconsin, lost both hands and both lower legs to amputation to save his life. Though he came into contact with a few dogs, he said, he was not bitten by any of them.
In both patients’ blood, doctors found the bacteria Capnocytophaga canimorsus.
“I looked at her hand right away. It looked just like a little kitchen cut.”
Capnocytophaga is a relatively common bacteria in dogs and cats. It’s harmless to them, but it can sicken humans. People with low immune systems are most at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but even then, infection is unlikely.
But the two cases, which occurred just miles apart, suggest that healthy people are at risk too.
Neither patient reported a compromised immune system or other risk factors identified by the CDC, such as substance abuse or the absence of a spleen.
“It’s extremely rare,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, told NBC News on Friday. “We don’t know why some people get very ill from it and some don’t. This can affect a perfectly normal person.”