Grandmother dies from rare infection after affectionate lick from one of her terriers
Sheena Kavanagh, 53, went into septic shock after the dog’s saliva entered her bloodstream
A grandmother died from a rare infection after being licked on the hand by one of her pet dogs.
An inquest heard how Sheena Kavanagh, 53, went into septic shock after the dog’s saliva entered her bloodstream through a small cut on her hand.
The affectionate lick from one of the three dogs she owned proved fatal because her spleen, which helps prevent infection, had been surgically removed in 1988.
Ms Kavanagh was taken ill after finishing work at a care home where she was a chef on April 24.
The mother of two was taken to Stafford Hospital’s A&E department, where medics suspected she had bacterial meningitis.
Test results were not clear and Ms Kavanagh was prescribed antibiotics, but her condition deteriorated and she died the following night.
The inquest, held on Friday, was told that her death was so unexpected doctors were at first unable to pinpoint what had caused it. Clinicians are considering publishing a report on the case because it was so rare.
Cannock Coroner’s Court heard that Ms Kavanagh, from Hilderstone, Staffs, was at risk from the Capnocytophaga canimorsus bacteria as a result of having had her spleen removed.
The operation was carried out after she was assaulted by her then partner in 1988, although at the time she told doctors she had sustained the injuries in a car crash. She left the relationship three years later, and her former partner died in 2001.
Ms Kavanagh’s daughter Melissa Bromfield, 27, told the hearing her mother had been prescribed penicillin, as is standard practice after a splenectomy, to reduce the risk of contracting the infection. She said her mother had been taking the antibiotic twice a day.
Dr Hiam Ali, a pathologist, told the inquest that the bacteria which proved fatal was discovered in a blood sample taken shortly after Ms Kavanagh’s arrival at hospital.
He said: “She had antibiotics [in hospital] which worked on the bacteria but unfortunately the damage was already done. Her blood was full of bacteria and organisms. Capnocytophaga canimorsus, an organism present in dog saliva, normally doesn’t cause damage. But in people without a spleen it can cause death due to septic shock. But it is extremely rare.”
The pathologist said a “very small” cut had been found on her hand, adding that he would have expected the penicillin that Ms Kavanagh had taken to have protected her from the bacteria and was unsure why it had not.
Andrew Haigh, the coroner for South Staffordshire, recorded a narrative verdict that Ms Kavanagh died from “splenectomy and dog saliva in the bloodstream”.
After the hearing Ms Bromfield said: “It was a shock as she had been around dogs all her life. She had two Yorkshire terriers, a long-haired Jack Russell and six horses. She loved all animals.”
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