A MUM has spoken of her horror when her baby daughter nearly died after contracting a rare strain of meningitis from the family’s pet cat.
Sparkle Anderson was just three weeks old when she was left fighting for her life in an isolation unit at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton.
Her mum, Chelsea-Ann Dodd, 21, said tests showed the infection had been passed to her daughter in the saliva of their two-year-old ginger tomcat, Chesney.
Chelsea-Ann, from Winsham, near Chard, told the County Gazette: “For the first couple of days we feared the worst because Sparkle was so unwell.
“It broke my heart to see her hooked up to so many wires.
“When they told me she had meningitis I felt sick.
“I was just really, really surprised when the doctors said she caught it from the cat – I didn’t have a clue it was possible.
“Sparkle’s a major cat person. She picks him up all the time and he’s a big, big cat – it looks so funny.
“He’s a real softie.”
The terrifying episode unfolded shortly after Chelsea-Ann gave birth to her only child at the age of 18.
She and Sparkle’s dad, Ricky Anderson, were at home at 7pm one evening when their baby suddenly became very unwell.
Chelsea-Ann said: “She didn’t have a rash, but was really, really hot, and we gave her a bath to cool her down because she loved a bath.”
But Sparkle became more unwell, so the couple wrapped her in a blanket and went to Musgrove Park Hospital after phoning NHS Direct.
Sparkle spent about three weeks in hospital and then had to keep returning for check-ups for a week to take antibiotics.
Chelsea-Ann said: “I was consumed with guilt – I felt as if I hadn’t kept a careful enough eye on things and Sparkle’s sickness was all my fault.
“I didn’t really let Chesney near her when she was tiny, but I was breast feeding and bottle feeding and he must have licked her milk bottle or my hand.
“She caught a bug from Chesney, which then formed into meningitis.”
Doctors believe there have been only 39 recorded cases of this particular strain of meningitis, which can be found in the saliva of cats, dogs, rabbits and pigs, with most cases involving newborn babies as they do not have an immune system.
Sparkle, who is now three, made a full recovery and is currently learning to ride a pony.
According to charity Meningitis Now, 10% of bacterial meningitis cases end in death.
It kills more UK children under the age of five than any other infectious disease.
Chesney now lives with Sparkle’s grandmother, Susan Dodd, in Chard.
Chelsea-Ann wants to raise awareness about meningitis and its symptoms – for more information visit www.meningitisnow.org