A mum told today how her baby daughter nearly died from meningitis after being infected by the family’s pet cat.
Sparkle Anderson was just three weeks old when she was rushed to hospital with a high temperature and sickness.
She was left fighting for life in isolation unit after it was confirmed she was suffering from meningitis.
Doctors later told frantic mum Chelsea-Ann Dodd that tests showed the infection had been passed to her daughter in the saliva of their ginger tomcat Chesney.
Mum-of-one Chelsea-Ann, aged 21, said: “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.
“For the first couple of days we feared the worst because Sparkle was so unwell.
“About five days later the doctors asked if we had any pets. I said we had a cat.
“They explained to us that Sparkle’s illness had been caused by a bug carried by bacteria in the cat’s saliva.
“It took them a while to find out what it was because they had never seen it before.
“The doctor said that from the swab they had there was a bug that grew and they didn’t know what it was.
“It turned out it was in cats, dogs, rabbits and pigs – it was in their saliva and really rare.
“The doctors said there were only 39 recorded cases in the world and most involved newborn babies because they didn’t have an immune system.
“It broke my heart to see Sparkle hooked up to so many wires. When they told me she had meningitis, I felt sick.
“I was told that she could have died within hours if I hadn’t brought her in.
“They thought the bug was transferred through Chesney’s saliva. I’d been careful not to leave them alone together, but Chesney must have licked Sparkle’s milk bottle while my back was turned.
“I was consumed with guilt – I felt as if I hadn’t kept a careful enough eye on things, and that Sparkle’s sickness was all my fault.
“When Sparkle began to improve she had to go and have her bones checked because the doctors said in half the cases people later suffered a bone disease.
“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.
“The cat did have a thing about going for her bottle to get at the milk – it’s just a cat thing isn’t it.
“Sparkle spent about three weeks in hospital and then we had to take her back every day for a week to take antibiotics.
“Fortunately she made a full recovery.
“The cat was never unwell – it was just a natural bacteria in his saliva.”
Sparkle is now aged three and learning to ride a pony.
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.
Events promotions assistant Chelsea-Ann, from Winsham, Somerset, said: “She was restless and had a very high temperature and wouldn’t stop crying. It was a very piercing cry and she then started being sick.
“I thought she had colic and sent Ricky down to Tesco to get some colic drops.
“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 and the couple wrapped her in a blanket and went to Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton after phoning NHS Direct.
Chelsea-Ann decided not to have two-year-old Chesney put down after Sparkle recovered from the life-threatening illness.
Instead, she gave the cat to her mum Susan Dodd who lives four miles away.
Chelsea-Ann said: “I used to worry about Sparkle at first and didn’t let her near any animals for more than a year.
“But it was not Chesney’s fault – he didn’t mean to do it.
“I’d had him since he was a kitten – he was like my first baby and I couldn’t have put him down.
“We asked the doctors if we should get rid of the cat and they said it wasn’t really necessary.
“Now Sparkle is more immune to it than us because she has all the antibodies.”
Sparkle now plays with Chesney every time she visits her grandmother’s home in Chard.
Chelsea-Ann said: “Sparkle is a major cat person.
“She picks him up all the time and he is a big, big cat – it looks so funny. He is a real softie.”
Mum-of-four Susan, 52, a farm worker, said: “The doctors said they thought the cat had either grabbed hold of the teat of one of the bottles or a dummy – and that’s how Sparkle contracted the illness through the cat’s saliva.
“They said it was very rare and doesn’t normally cause a problem.
“They reckon if Chelsea had not gone down to the hospital that night Sparkle would not have been alive the next morning.
“Now Sparkle is full of beans and she and Chesney are best friends – they love each other, bless her.
“The cat lives with me and he sees Sparkle almost every day.
“She plays with him and picks him up round the head and lies all over him – he is as gentle as anything.”
She added: “It was not the cat’s fault.
“The doctor said it was just a freak accident and we were very unlucky.
“I was shocked when the doctors told us what caused the illness but I was more worried about Chelsea and how she would cope – she was brilliant.
“We did think about getting rid of Chesney but that didn’t last long. He is a lovely cat and a big softie.”
Mum Chelsea-Ann and Sparkle’s dad Ricky no longer live together.
A spokeswoman for Musgrove Park Hospital today confirmed Sparkle was treated at the facility three years ago.