I have an uneasy relationship with dogs — while I think they're cute and fun, I've never had an urge to own one of my own. I also have an irrational fear of large dogs, which I've been mocked for mercilessly. But a new report out of England has shown that my hesitance may not be completely irrational: A healthy 66-year-old woman needed a hip replacement after contracting a rare infection — and it turns out, she may have gotten it from a dog scratch. So are dog scratches dangerous? If you're unlucky, you could end up very sick. Here's how everything went down, according to LiveScience: The woman was scratched on the back of her hand by her dog and began to have hip pain.
The anonymous woman had already had hip replacement surgery, and doctors eventually found an infection in her hip joint. The culprit: Capnocytophaga canimorsus, bacteria that's found in both dog and cat saliva. According to the European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, humans are usually affected with the bacteria through dog bites, and the results aren't pretty: The infection can cause sepsis, fatal septic shock, gangrene, meningitis, eye infections and endocarditis, a heart infection. One study found that about 26 percent of people who are infected with the bacteria will die.
In this case, the woman survived, but she was in pain for over a year. After an X-ray didn't show anything, she had to get a hip biopsy. ScienceAlert quotes the woman as saying, "All this time, the pain was becoming worse, and I was becoming increasingly frightened by what might actually be happening to me." After several rounds of testing, doctors pinpointed the problem, but it was over a year since she'd first seen an orthopedist because of hip pain. "It was only when the doctors figured out that the woman had an animal-related infection that the woman recalled being scratched by her pooch nine months before she first turned up at her orthopedist's office to report the pain," LiveScience says. Because the bacteria is found in animal saliva, it's likely that her dog licked its paws before scratching her, which is how she got infected. By the time doctors diagnosed her, her hip bone was thinning and deteriorating.
The woman had to have two serious surgeries as a result of the ordeal: She had her old hip replacement removed and a new one put in. She eventually recovered, but the woman described her pain as "horrendous" in the ScienceAlert report. If you're freaking out and wondering how to prevent this rare bacteria from making you sick, there aren't many options other than staying away from dogs and cats. Earlier this year, a study found that dog and cat kisses can cause salmonella, so if you have a pet, be prepared to live life on the wild side. You probably shouldn't worry too much — the chances of you becoming sick thanks to your pet are low, but this case study proves just how dangerous pet ownership can be.
If you're anything like me, the most pressing question here is whether she kept the dog. Unfortunately, we don't have an answer: Lead author Dr. Irasha Hettiarachchi told LiveScience she doesn't know whether the woman is still a pet owner. I know that dogs are man's best friend, but I don't think anyone could blame her if she decided she couldn't do it anymore. I already think worst-case scenario anytime something mildly inconveniencing happens, so the fact that a mild pet scratch can essentially destroy bones is a bit nerve-racking. Since there's no foolproof solution other than staying away from dogs, I guess we'll all just have to hope we get lucky.