Ear-licking Dogs Can
Pass Infection To
Human Ears
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Lending an ear to man's best friend may result in serious infection, according to researchers. They report the case of an elderly man who contracted a serious ear infection after his dog repeatedly licked his ear.
In a report published Saturday in The Lancet, Dr. Benoit Codey and colleagues at Rennes University Hospital in Rennes, France, describe the case of a 67-year-old man with a 40-year history of ear problems, including chronic inflammation of the right inner ear.
According to the authors, in June of 1998 the patient was admitted to the hospital suffering from fever, confusion, headache, nausea, and stiffness of the neck. Computed tomography (CT) scans showed serious inflammation and damage to the inner ear and adjacent bony structures.
Bacterial cultures revealed infection with Pasteurella multocida, a bacterium found in animal saliva, which can be passed to humans via bites. Pasteurella multocida has been isolated in the throats or respiratory tracts of veterinarians and other humans in frequent contact with animals, but the researchers note that "it has never been reported in the middle ear.''
However, after interviewing the patient, the investigators discovered that he "had a dog who frequently licked his right ear.'' The dog's saliva tested positive for the bacteria.
Antibiotic therapy, followed by surgery, help rid the man of his illness. Codey and colleagues note that "when last seen in March 1999, the patient was well.''
They stress that - in most cases -patients with chronic ear disorders should not shun affectionate contact with their pets. However, they do recommend that patients diagnosed with perforated eardrums "avoid being licked on their ears by animals.''
SOURCE: The Lancet 1999;354,1267-1268.