AN 80-year-old woman has died from bacterial meningitis after being licked by her cat.
The grandmother spent nine days in a coma after being found unresponsive at her home in Melbourne, Australia.
The woman’s pet cat, Minty, was curled up beside her when she was found, and is thought to have licked a wound on her skin during the night.
Bacterial meningitis is rarer but more deadly than viral meningitis, and can kill victims in a matter of hours.
Doctors in Melbourne currently report seeing around one patient per week with infections caused by the bacteria in cat saliva.
The woman’s family have opted to remain anonymous, but hope to alert the public to the risks of pet cats, particularly to older people and other vulnerable groups.
“Mum would sleep with the cat and obviously through the night it has licked the wound and it was the saliva going into her bloodstream that has caused the damage,” her daughter told the Herald Sun.
The woman was rushed to Box Hill hospital in Melbourne and remained in a coma for nine days.
She woke briefly but died the day after the withdrawal of life support.
A bacteria named pasteurella is a normal part of the oral and respiratory systems of cats, but is known to cause meningitis in humans.
Around half of all cats at some point also carry a bacteria named bartonella, which causes cat-scratch disease.
Speaking to the Herald Sun, Lindsay Grayson, infectious diseases director at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital, urged the public to take the risk from cat scratches seriously.
“It is a big deal and it is emerging more and more now as an unrecognised cause of heart valve infection, which is obviously fatal if untreated,” he said.
“Infections related to cat bites and scratches like this person, we’d get at least one a week where somebody comes into the hospital.
“It is very important that if a cat is biting or scratching you, you mention it to your GP.
“It immediately triggers a greater concern and a different medical approach to just a routine scratch.”