Scientists have found a gene mutation causes pet owners to have a rare reaction to dog saliva.
At least six people were found with severe reactions to a rare form of bacteria called capnocytophaga, which is common and harmless in dogs but can be fatal for humans that catch it, in 10 years.
One of them is Greg Manteufel, 49, from West Bend, Wisconsin, who lost his arms, legs and part of his nose and upper lip after a lick from his pet pitbull Ellie.
The case is extremely rare and doctors at his hospital, Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, were clueless.
But researchers of Harvard Medical School have discovered a gene variant in the victims that makes people more susceptible to developing severe medical problems from the bacteria.
Greg Manteufel thought he had just the flu in June 2018 after he experienced symptoms of fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. But, when things getting worse, his family took him to the hospital.
Doctors took blood tests and discovered he’d become infected with a bacterial pathogen known as capnocytophaga canimorsus.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the bacteria is found in the saliva of healthy dogs and cats.
One 2014 study from Japan found the bacteria to be present in 69 percent of dogs and 54 percent of cats.
The bacteria can be transmitted to humans through bites and licks from the animals.
According to a 2003 study from France, most people couldn’t find any symptoms if they become infected.
It is unclear if Manteufel had any pre-existing conditions but he developed sepsis or blood poisoning, and his nose, both of his hands and his legs beneath his knees turned black.
‘Do what you have to, to keep me alive,’ he told the doctors.
Manteufel underwent more than 20 surgeries, including amputations of his left and right arms just below the elbow, and legs through the middle of the knee.
His wife and son stayed optimistic because he was.
‘Greg said he didn’t come this far to lay down and let this beat him,’ his wife, Dawn Manteufel, said.
The team has done genetic testing on five healthy people who suffered capnocytophaga infections to see anything in common.
They discovered all had a gene connected to the immune system that was working differently – a genetic variant.
‘It was a thrilling moment,’ said Elizabeth Fieg, a genetic counselor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. ‘The stakes are so high with these cases and the patients have gone through so much.’
Researchers gathering more evidence, but hope to publish their study in the next year to 18 months.
The results of Manteufel’s genetic tests are expected in three to four months. Fieg said people with the gene variant are at increased risk for recurrent capnocytophaga or other infections in the future.
While Manteufel doesn’t believe that, he said Ellie’s accidentally scratched him since he’s been home and even licked his mouth. He’s been fine.
And even if he does have the gene variant, he said, it changes nothing.
‘We weren’t going to get rid of [Ellie],’ he said. ‘We just love her to death.’
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