Photo by Colton Kresser on Unsplash

Introduction

Having a dog has certainly many benefits over your health. According to a study conducted in 1980 in the University of Pennsylvania, playing with a dog, almost immediately, lowers blood pressure, decreases heart rate and helps relax muscle tension.

Unfortunately, those lovely pets can carry many dangerous pathogens that might endanger your life if you don’t take proper precautions.

In this article you will learn everything you need to know about a very dangerous germ called “Capnocytophaga canimorsus”!

What is Capnocytophaga canimorsus?

Capnocytophaga canimorsus is a bacterium found in the saliva of some dogs and cats. It spreads mainly through dog and cat bites and scratches but can also be transmitted by direct contact of open wounds with dog’s or cat’s saliva through licks.

This germ has been implicated in many disorders in humans with immune deficiency including sepsis (infection causing the inflammation of the whole body), meningitis and other circulatory and hearth related affections.

Also, people on prolonged medication such as steroids or people with cancer present a high risk of developing that illness.

What are the signs of Capnocytophaga Infection?

People who get infected with Capnocytophaga canimorsus may manifest a variety of symptoms, many of which are common to lots of illnesses, making it more difficult to diagnose:

  • Swelling around the bite wound (within hours)
  • Redness, pain and pus draining
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea,
  • Vomiting
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Muscle soreness or joint pain
  • Hypotension
  • Dermatologic lesions (erythema; petechia and popular eruption)

Those symptoms will show within 3 to 5 days in most cases, but wider ranges have been described (1-14 days).

Capnocytophaga infection can be very serious and life-threatening causing complications such as heart attack, multiple organ failure or even sepsis and gangrene (people may need amputations of fingers, toes, or even whole limbs).

Death occurs in 30% of people who develop a severe infection. And can be as quick as 24 hours after the bite.

A 48-year-old dad loses his hands and legs due to a dog lick

How is Capnocytophaga infection diagnosed?

The primary way to diagnose Capnocytophaga infection is by performing cultures of the infected tissue (in case of sepsis, a blood culture is performed).

However, Capnocytophaga canimorsus infection may not be easily detected as it requires special culture conditions to grow in the laboratory (lots of iron and high carbon dioxide levels). Therefore, specific testing should be requested by the physician who needs to be aware of this disease and pay attention to the patient’s risk factors and eventual animal exposure.

Usually the treatment is started before confirmation of the diagnosis due to the severity of the infection.

Sometimes, a basic blood smear can help detect this bacterium. Although this test is not specific for Capnocytophaga, it is much faster than normal cultures.

Molecular tests such as PCR for Capnocytophaga are not yet broadly available.

Am I at risk of developing Capnocytophaga Infection?

Anyone could get infected with Capnocytophaga canimorsus if this pathogen finds its way to his bloodstream. Yet, the severity of the infection will vary depending on the immune system of the contaminated person.

Many factors increase the risk of infection, such as:

  • Abuse drinking alcohol.
  • Have had a splenectomy (surgical removal of spleen).
  • Have a disease that weakens the immune system, such as:
    • Diabetes
    • Cancer
    • AIDS
  • Are taking chemotherapy sessions
  • Have a transplant.

In general, the category of people who are most likely to develop this disease are what we call YOPI (Young; Old; Pregnant and Immunodeficient).

So, what can you do if you get infected with Capnocytophaga canimorsus? Is there a specific treatment?

What is the treatment of Capnocytophaga Infection?

This pathogen is quite susceptible to many antibiotics. But it seems that a penicillin/beta-lactamase combination or a large spectrum cephalosporin is the drug of choice for intravenous medication.

Although, most physicians would administer a large spectrum medication before having the results of the diagnosis test (which may take up to a week), It would be interesting to perform an antibiogram in order to determine the right antibiotic for the bacterium causing the infection, as there is more antibiotic resistance lately.

You may need an association of 2 or more antibiotics to help you fight the infection and get better.

If you have been bitten or scratched by a dog or a cat or have any reason to believe that you might be infected with Capnocytophaga canimorsus, you must call your doctor immediately and let him know about the circumstances of your infection and your contact with animals.

How to prevent yourself from getting infected with Capnocytophaga canimorsus?

When it comes to prevention from Capnocytophaga canimorsus infection, 4 major guidelines are to be met:

  • Avoid being bite or scratched by your dog or cat
  • Avoid being licked on your face or any other body part with an open wound
  • Always keep a good hygiene before and after contact with your pet
  • Have your pet regularly checked by your veterinarian and also keep his vaccination up to date.

Your dog needs proper training. It is preferable to start teaching him, at an early age, how to behave around kids and stay calm and playful.

If you notice any access of aggressivity or violence in your dog, or feel like you can’t handle his dressage by yourself, you’ll probably need to consult with your veterinarian or have a renowned dog trainer adjust his behavior for you.

You also need to get your children used to be around pets and treat them gently and avoid harming them as this may result in an aggressive reaction from your pet.

If a dog or a cat bites/scratches you, you must wash the site of the bite/scratch, immediately. And go visit your doctor as quick as possible, even though, you don’t show any signs of infection.

Conclusion

Dogs and cats have many germs in their mouths as a normal oral flora. Those germs do not necessarily make your animal sick, but some of them occur to be pathogenic to humans and may cause serious health conditions such as Capnocytophaga infection, rabies and many other zoonoses (diseases that transmit from animal to humans and vice-versa).

Even though, Capnocytophaga infection is very rare and, mainly, affects people with compromised immune system, you should always take precautions, and get used to good hygiene practices. As it is the only way to, effectively, protect yourself and your family from life threatening diseases.

Ressources

FAQ

Do all dogs have Capnocytophaga?

What Is Capnocytophaga canimorsus?

It’s a bacterium commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats. That causes a serious health condition in immunodeficient people.

Why do we call it Capnocytophaga canimorsus?

This nomenclature is in relation with its cultural conditions of growth: capno (can grow in high levels of Carbon dioxide) cytophaga refers to its mode of action (having flexibility and gliding motility) whereas canimorsus refers to its mode of transmission (cani: dog; morsus: bite)

What antibiotics treat Capnocytophaga?

This bacterium is susceptible to many antibiotics: beta-lactams; clindamycin.

Older studies documented susceptibility to erythromycin, but in recent case reports erythromycin resistance seems to become common.

Do I have Capnocytophaga?

Infected people can present with various signs and symptoms such as: Swelling around the bite wound within hours of the bite. Redness, pain, pus, Muscle soreness or joint pain.

How do you test for Capnocytophaga?

This bacterium can be detected by growing it in cultures performed in a microbiology laboratory. Blood smears may be a quick alternative to cultures as all is needed is 1 to 2 days of incubation. Yet this method is not specific to Capnocytophaga canimorsus.

Molecular tests such as PCR are not broadly available, yet.

Should I worry about Capnocytophaga?

Despite its serious symptoms, Capnocytophaga infection is very rare and has been around for a long time. As we know Media tend to exaggerate everything, so no need to panic.

How do you stop Capnocytophaga?

You can stop it by prompt and adequate medical care consisting of antibiotics and fluid therapy.

How many cases of Capnocytophaga Canimorsus are there?

Since 1976, nearly 200 cases of human infection have been reported worldwide, but this is certainly far from being representative as many countries do not possess proper diagnosis tools and many physicians do not even recognize it.

Is there a vaccine for Capnocytophaga?

Currently, no vaccine for Capnocytophaga infections is commercially available.

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