Horse Kick Victim Develops Rare Disease

A 79-year-old man who managed an animal sanctuary in England was trampled by his horses. He suffered cuts and bruises but otherwise seemed relatively unscathed. A week later, however, he was taken to the hospital because he was confused, feverish, and had a headache. The head wound he received from the incident appeared infected, and he was admitted to the hospital for meningitis (an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain). While hospitalized, the man had several seizures and developed left-sided neglect, in which a person ceases to be aware of a certain side of the body and stops using it. Neglect often occurs after a stroke or brain injury.

After several days, the doctors found the cause--Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus. The man received long-term intravenous antibiotics and recovered. Although rare, S. equi subspecies zooepidemicus can be transmitted from horses to people with dire consequences.

Over the last 30 years, there have been 21 human reports of meningitis due to S. equi subspecies zooepidemicus, according to David W. Eyre, MA, BM, BCh, MRCP, a physician at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, U.K.

"Contact with animals, especially horses and/or consuming unpasteurized dairy products, is associated with the condition," Eyre said. "The bacteria that caused the human infections are closely related to the bacteria that causes strangles in horses."

He said this was a "very rare problem and not one to worry about specifically," but added if a person is very sick, always mention any animals he or she owns, so a doctor can eliminate any zoonotic diseases.

Eyre also recommended "a common sense level of hygiene" whenever a person is around animals.

The study, "Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus meningitis-a case report and review of the literature," was published in September online ahead of print in the European Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

The abstract is available on PubMed.

About the Author

Marie Rosenthal, MS

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