A mother and grandmother who was known for her love of animals was killed when she was licked on the hand by her pet dog.
Sheena Kavanagh had a small cut on her hand; when she was licked by either her Yorkshire Terrier or her Jack Russell, bacteria in the dog’s saliva entered Ms Kavanagh’s bloodstream and because her spleen had previously been removed, she went into septic shock.
The lick proved fatal because the spleen usually provides some protection against bacterial infection and Ms Kavanagh’s had been removed in 1988 after she was assaulted by her partner at the time. The bacterial infection seized hold, despite the fact that Ms Kavanagh was taking regular antibiotics as is standard practice after a splenectomy.
The mother-of-two was taken ill after she finished her work for the day as a chef at a care home on 24 April earlier this year. She was rushed to the A&E department of Stafford Hospital, where doctors suspected she might be suffering from bacterial meningitis. She was given an emergency course of antibiotics, but the infection had already taken a fatal hold, and her organs shut down leading to her death the following night.
An inquest into Ms Kavanagh’s death has heard that her death was so unexpected, doctors were baffled as to what was the cause. Her daughter, Melissa Bromfield, gave evidence that her mother had indeed been taking her prescribed antibiotics but a pathologist confirmed that the fatal bacteria was found in a sample of Ms Kavanagh’s blood.
The pathologist, Dr Hiam Ali, told the inquest: “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.”