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Medicine

The shocking reason both his legs and hands were amputated? A dog licked him

The rare infection that almost killed Greg Manteufel was caused by the Capnocytophaga canimorsus bacteria, found in dog saliva

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 9:11am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 11:13pm

Greg Manteufel’s symptoms began with fever and vomiting, as if he had the flu. But by the following morning, he was delirious, and his temperature had soared.

His wife rushed him to the hospital, a quick drive from their Wisconsin home. Once they arrived, Dawn Manteufel said she noticed bruises – several of them, all over his body – that weren’t there when they left their house just five minutes earlier. To Dawn, it was as if her husband had just been beaten with a baseball bat.

Within a week at the hospital, the 48-year-old who paints houses for a living and loves to ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle lost his legs. And then his hands.

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Greg Manteufel suffered a rare blood infection after harmful bacteria from a dog’s saliva seeped into his bloodstream, causing sepsis, or blood poisoning from bacteria. The sepsis resulted in blood spots that looked like bruises all over his body, particularly on his chest and face. Doctors pumped him with antibiotics to stop the infection, his wife said, but clots blocked the flow of blood to his extremities, causing tissue and muscles to die.

The bacteria, called Capnocytophaga canimorsus, “just attacked him,” Dawn said, and it did so quickly and aggressively. To save his life, doctors had to cut his legs from the knee down, and then his hands.

“Why him? Why did this happen to us?” Dawn asked.

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Capnocytophaga canimorsus is a bacteria commonly found in dogs and cats. It’s present in the saliva of most healthy dogs and is usually not harmful to humans. But in rare cases, the bacteria can poison the blood and cause death.

Dawn Manteufel said doctors told them her husband’s case is not common but more like a “crazy fluke.” She said she doesn’t know which dog was carrying the bacteria that attacked her husband. About the time he got sick, he had been around eight dogs, including one that belongs to the couple. The bacteria could have come from any of those dogs that licked him, Dawn said.

“He loves dogs. He would touch any dog; he doesn’t care,” she said of her husband of 15 years.

Greg Manteufel has been at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee for about a month. By late morning Tuesday, several doctors had gathered around his hospital bed, checking his vital signs and asking him questions, as he lay with his thighs propped up by a pillow, his wife said. He had just undergone a surgery to remove dead tissue and muscle from what is left of his lower extremities. This week, he will have two more, again to clean up dead tissue.

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He’s in good spirits, his wife said, aware of what he has lost but at peace that he must now live an entirely different life, sitting in a power wheelchair.

“He told the doctors, ‘Do what you have to do to keep me alive,’ ” Dawn Manteufel said. “There’s no negativity from him so far … He said, ‘It is what it is, so we have to move forward.’ ”

Capnocytophaga canimorsus is commonly transmitted by dog bites and is usually life-threatening to people who suffer from alcoholism or are asplenic, meaning their spleens don’t function normally. Symptoms typically worsen rapidly.

A case report published by the peer-reviewed medical journal BMJ recounted the story of an elderly woman who may have been licked by her household pet and later suffered sepsis and organ failure. The woman recovered after two weeks in an intensive-care unit, says the report, which aptly called the sepsis-causing bacteria the “lick of death.”