A Wisconsin woman died after her family says she contracted an extremely rare infection from a kind of bacteria found in some dogs’ saliva.
Sharon Larson, 58, started feeling a little ill on June 20, the day after her puppy nipped her, her husband Daniel Larson told NBC News. The next day, she felt so weak that she couldn’t even hold a glass of water, and a local urgent care center sent her to the emergency room.
Daniel Larson told local news outlet WTMJ that his wife was treated at the Wheaton Franciscan hospital in Franklin, Wisconsin. Ascension Wisconsin, the nonprofit group that oversees the hospital, did not immediately reply to a request for comment from HuffPost.
At the hospital, Larson told NBC, doctors found that his wife’s kidneys were failing. On June 22, her blood tested positive for capnocytophaga canimorsus, common bacteria found in the mouths of dogs and cats. Though the bacteria are common, it’s extremely rare for them to cause serious illness. Doctors treated her with antibiotics, but she died the next afternoon.
Her family remembers her as “amazingly kind” and caring.
“Her smile will live on through her five grandkids and a sixth on the way,” her adult daughter, Stacy Larson-Hruzek, told NBC.
Sharon Larson’s case is especially curious because it happened the same month that Wisconsin resident Greg Manteufel contracted a severe capnocytophaga infection that led to the amputation of parts of his arms and legs. Manteufel fell ill about two miles from where Larson contracted her infection.
Despite the apparent coincidence, health experts repeatedly stressed that serious illness from capnocytophaga is extremely rare.
“The risk posed by a dog is really low,” Scott Weese, a professor at the Ontario Veterinary College’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses, told HuffPost last week. “Most dogs are carrying this bug in their mouth, but few people get sick.”
When people do fall ill, it’s typically after an animal carrying the bacteria (usually a dog) bites them or after an animal carrying the bacteria licks them and the saliva contacts broken skin or a mucous membrane. (Learn more about capnocytophaga here.)
Both Weese and Jennifer McQuiston, a veterinarian and epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emphasized that no one should panic or give up their pets. However, people with certain health conditions ― like those with weakened immune systems or those who have lost their spleens ― are more susceptible to infection and therefore should take extra precautions to avoid animal bites and seek medical attention immediately if they are bitten, even if the bite is minor.
That said, neither Larson nor Manteufel had any risk factors for increased susceptibility to the bacteria, according to NBC News. That’s one reason why anyone who feels ill after being bitten by an animal should mention the bite to doctors.
Manteufel, the man who underwent multiple amputations, is recovering from the illness and keeping a positive attitude.
“My mind is right, I’m not looking back one minute,” he told People. “It sucks, but what are you gonna do, you know? My mind’s been 100 percent positive through all of this. Looking back is going to get you nowhere.”