MILWAUKEE – A bacteria spread through animal saliva, which forced the amputation of a man's hands and legs in June, has been linked to two other Wisconsin cases in recent years, including the death of a Milwaukee County woman.
Sharon Larson, 58, of South Milwaukee died June 23, not long after being nipped by her new dog, Bo, according to a report by WISN-TV.
And a 3-year-old Grant County boy, Liam Young, had his fingers and toes amputated in 2015 after he developed the same infection, his father said Saturday.
Both had tested positive for capnocytophaga canimorsus, a bacteria often found in the saliva of dogs and cats.
In June, Greg Manteufel of West Bend lost both hands and his lower legs because of the same bacteria, which entered his bloodstream, causing sepsis. Although he had contact with a few dogs just before he'd gotten the infection, none had bitten him.
The stories had the same pattern – flu-like symptoms that rapidly grew more serious, sometimes to the point of death.
"She just kept getting worse," Larson's husband, Daniel, told the TV station about his wife. "Now I feel like I lost my right arm, my best friend, my wife. It's tore me apart."
Hearing Larson's and Manteufel's stories caused memories to flood back to Chris Young, Liam's father, who remembers all too well when his son's seemingly minor flu symptoms grew so serious he was put into a medically induced coma and lost his fingers and toes.
Doctors still aren't sure what caused the infection in Liam, now 5.
After a full genetic analysis of Liam and his parents, Chris Young said they discovered less than a month ago that capnocytophaga may have played a role.
"This was the first time I'd seen a story similar with that bacteria involved," Young said. "It was just kind of insane. It feels like it's starting to happen more, or people are just starting to discover what it actually is."
Although the bacteria is common and not harmful to pets, it can in rare cases make humans sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 30 percent of people who are infected die as a result, it said. The agency does not track it because it is considered so rare.
People who abuse alcohol, don't have a spleen, have weak immune systems, or have cancer, diabetes or HIV are at more of a risk to be affected by the bacteria, according to the CDC.
Neither Manteufel nor Larson reported any of these risk factors before the infection set in, according to NBC News. Both their illnesses began with flu-like symptoms that grew more serious within days of making contact with a dog.
"My mother was amazingly kind; she would do anything for others," Stacy Larson-Hruzek told NBC News. "Her smile will live on through her five grandkids, and a sixth on the way."