How puppy love brought a drug-resistant, life-threatening infection into an Oxford home

OXFORD, Ohio – Puppy love almost killed Michael McVey.

He and his wife Cathy are laughing about it now, but they also have a nickname for the little white puppy he adopted in 2017: Typhoid Mabel, the $ 53,000 dog.

Cathy had advised against getting a new pet, but Michael had set his heart on Mabel. She arrived at her home with a microscopic passenger who made the McVeys part of an outbreak in several states.

“I would say he was in serious danger of death several times,” said Cathy McVey on Friday.

Mabel had Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium that can be transmitted from dogs to humans. Although Mabel didn’t get very sick, Michael McVey quickly developed an infection so severe that he was hospitalized for 30 days.

Most cases of campylobacteriosis are mild and resolve on their own after a few days of fever and bowel discomfort, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Michael McVeys wasn’t and didn’t.

This is because the strain of Campylobacter jejuni that Mabel was carrying was drug resistant. McVey was treated with 36 antibiotics, none of which worked before doctors identified three that would.

“We have continued to contact the CDC,” said Dr. Dheeraj Goyal, doctor from Mercy Health, who identified McVey’s condition as campylobacteriosis and played detective to determine the best treatment.

The CDC counts McVey as one of 169 people who have been infected with the Campbylobacter variant through contact with a puppy since 2016. The cases focus on two outbreaks in multiple states: one starting in 2016 that McVey was involved in, and another starting in 2019.

Goyal has since published a study summarizing what he learned from McVey’s case and recommending safety measures that can prevent dog-borne cases of campylobacteriosis.

“Especially if an animal is new to your house, be sure to wash your hands,” he said.

And while puppy kisses are tempting, they can easily transmit germs. Dealing closely with new puppies, especially those from pet stores, should be careful and always accompanied by hand washing.

Mabel is now an adult and McVey has made a full recovery. But Cathy McVey now has a trump card in all marital disputes.

“She says, ‘Do you remember that little white dog?'” Joked Michael McVey. “And I say, ‘Oh no – printed furniture is wonderful in the living room, yes.'”

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