UK blogger left paralysed after stroking a stray cat on holiday

A UK cat lover says she'll never touch another stray after petting one left her paralysed for a year.

Gemma Birch, 24, was on holiday in Portugal in 2014 when she met a stray black cat at her hotel. She let 'Catarina' into her room and left her bowls of milk - but quickly began to feel ill during her week-long stay.

The psychology student began vomiting on her last day, and felt faint while on the plane home to Southport, England. Her symptoms had worsened by the time she landed.

"When we got to passport control in England, my stomach bloated, and I looked nine months' pregnant despite having no food or liquid in me," she told MDW. 

Ms Birch headed to hospital where doctors found she'd been infected with campylobacter, a bacteria found in raw poultry. It was a mysterious discovery seeing as Ms Birch had been a pescatarian for the last year.

When asked if she'd had any recent contact with animals, she realised the culprit must have been her furry friend in Portugal, who would have come into contact with all sorts of food bacteria while rummaging in bins.

Ms Birch was discharged from hospital, but encountered a disturbing new symptom not long afterwards. She fell out of her bed one night and woke up with no feeling in her legs.

Back at the hospital, she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome - a rare condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves. Within hours she was paralysed from the hips down.

She spent three weeks in hospital before moving to rehab, where she spent eight months relearning how to walk. She says she lost almost all independence during this time - which was meant to be the final year of her psychology degree.

"I had to rely on nurses to take me to the loo and wash me," she explained to MDW. "I lost control of my bowels and bladder, and I couldn't use my arms or hands because they were so weak."

Fourteen months after innocently petting a cat, Ms Birch finally fully recovered, although she still suffers from numbness and weakness when ill or injured.

She says she's now made a change.

"As much as I love them, I couldn't touch a stray cat now."