Melbourne grandmother dies from bacterial infection after pet cat scratches and licks her

A Melbourne family is grieving after a lick from a pet cat killed an 80-year-old grandmother. 

The unnamed woman contracted bacterial meningitis after the feline, named Minty, scratched her then licked the wound.

The grandmother spent nine days in a coma at Box Hill Hospital in May before being taken off life support.

The woman's family believe the elderly woman was scratched in her sleep as Minty would often curl up in her bed for the night.

In an interview with the Herald Sun, the woman's daughter said she has "tried not to hate the cat", but noted it appears to have a tendency to scratch.

"I was sitting with it trying to be nice and it lashed out at me as well for no reason," she told the publication.

However, infectious disease experts say the bacteria in cats' saliva is responsible for frequent hospitalisations, with one person a week admitted to Melbourne hospitals due to feline spittle, 7 News reports. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the potentially harmful bacteria bartonella henselae can lead to cat-scratch disease (CSD), a bacterial infection characterised by headache, exhaustion, reduced appetite, and swelling and lesions around the infected area.

About 40 percent of cats carry B. henselae at some point in their lives, says the CDC.

Although rare, CSD can cause serious complications, affecting the brain, eyes, heart or other organs. The complications, which may require intensive treatment, are more likely to occur in those with weakened immune systems or children aged 5 to 14.

The CDC recommends cat-owners to wash bites and scratches with soap and running water immediately. It also advises people to wash their hands after playing with a feline, particularly when living with children or those with compromised immunity.