Disease can kill in less than four hours

IN JUST a few days time Mark and Jennifer Smith will become parents again.

It’s a bitter-sweet time for the couple, who are incredibly excited about the forthcoming new arrival but also a little anxious: just over a year ago their nine-month-old son, Taylor, died of meningitis.

Since his death in March last year the couple, who live at Kesgrave, have been fundraising tirelessly for the charity Meningitis UK and working to raise awareness of the meningitis, which can kill within the space of less than four hours.

They see World Meningitis Day as another opportunity to drive home that message.

“I would say to people, don’t take risks,” said Mark. “People need to be aware of the symptoms.”

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He and Jennifer are urging parents to carry wallet-size symptom cards and want doctors to consider the possibility that a sick child could have meningitis from the outset, rather than waiting for the symptoms to get worse.

“We obviously don’t want people to panic but they need to know that what looks like a normal teething rash could be meningitis. People need to know because meningitis can be fatal so quickly,” said Mark.

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Taylor died just 15 hours after first falling ill and his parents say that if they had been aware of the symptoms of meningitis they would have rushed him straight to hospital.

Instead, they thought his high temperature and very faint rash on his face could have been down to chicken pox as he had come into contact with another child who had the illness a few days before. They consulted a doctor and NHS Direct but no-one suspected meningitis until it was too late.

“Now we know these are classic symptoms of meningitis,” said Mark. “And never once did a medical expert tell us that the chicken pox rash wouldn’t emerge until a week after contact. “If we’d been alerted to the fact it could be meningitis then we never would have put Taylor to bed that night, we would have sped to the hospital instead. Our advice now is to go to hospital if any of the symptoms develop. Don’t take any risks if you suspect something serious is wrong - it’s not worth it.

“People need to be vigilant for all the symptoms of meningitis, not just the rash. Not everyone gets the rash and for those that do, when it appears it is often too late to do anything.”

He believes people should be told about the symptoms of the disease in antenatal classes before their baby is even born.

“I know parentcraft meetings are designed to be happy occasions but people need to know about the symptoms - there is no point being ignorant. The message is still not getting through to people enough.

“There was a survey recently that showed 97% of people did not know about the symptoms of the disease or thought that they were immunised against it. This ignorance can cost lives.”

Taylor died from the meningococcal septicaemia form of the disease, which leads to death in a fifth of cases. It occurs when meningococcal bacteria enter the blood stream and multiply uncontrollably, poisoning the blood and completely overwhelming the immune system.

There is currently no vaccine to protect against the strain of the disease that killed Taylor but a new pneumococcal vaccine, Prevenar 13, was introduced into the Childhood Immunisation Programme this month, protecting against 13 strains of the disease, compared to the previous vaccine which covered seven. This is in addition to the existing Hib and Meningitis C vaccines which have saved thousands of lives.

Menveo �?, a new vaccine licenced in March, protects against four strains of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia for those travelling to high-risk countries such as parts of Africa and Saudi Arabia, and may well have a wider use in the UK too.

Despite the success of these vaccines, the UK public surveillance agencies report that there are still around 3,000 cases of life-threatening bacterial meningitis and septicaemia every year. And there is as yet no vaccine for Meningitis B, which is the most common strain in this country.

The three leading UK meningitis charities have united to send a clear message to the public to coincide with World Meningitis Day – make sure all children are vaccinated and that the full range of symptoms are known because the disease can kill in under four hours.

Meningitis UK, Meningitis Trust and Meningitis Research Foundation say the brain bug kills more under-fives than any other infectious disease in this country and up to 500,000 people living in the UK have had either viral or bacterial meningitis.

Around 300 people die from the disease each year and six families a week face the devastation of losing a loved-one.

The charities are all members of the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations, which has organised World Meningitis Day today to increase public awareness.

Steve Dayman, the chief executive of Meningitis UK who lost his son Spencer to the disease, said: “Great advances have been made in the past few decades and World Meningitis Day is an opportunity to remind people of the importance of vaccine uptake and symptoms recognition.

“Together we can help raise awareness, share knowledge and fund research in the hope that one day families will be spared the heartache of losing a loved one to this devastating disease.”

Hundreds of people in this country die from bacterial meningitis each year and those who survive are often left with after-effects including deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy, limb loss (where septicaemia is involved), learning difficulties, memory issues and behavioural problems.

Sue Davie, chief executive of the Meningitis Trust, added: “For every individual across the UK who has had meningitis, there are many more who are living with the impact of the disease right now, and for many, their lives have changed forever.

“We hope World Meningitis Day will show them that they are not alone and that meningitis organisations across the world are working together to help save lives and rebuild futures.”

Meningitis does not discriminate and can affect anyone, of any age, at any time. Those most at risk are children under the age of five, those aged between 15 and 19, and people over 65.

Chris Head, chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “Meningitis and septicaemia are global killers, affecting thousands of people every year in the UK and millions more around the globe. There are now several vaccines that protect against these diseases so we need to improve global access to them; but there is still more work to be done. We strive to develop a Meningitis B vaccine, and to raise awareness of symptoms, so that treatment can be sought swiftly and effectively. This way we hope to stop more people dying or being left with life altering after effects.”

There are also believed to be more than 6,000 cases of viral meningitis in the UK every year. Viral meningitis is rarely life-threatening, although it can leave people with debilitating after-effects.

It is hoped people around the globe will join hands to mark World Meningitis Day and draw attention to the disease and its life changing after-effects.

In the UK this will be through a virtual joining of hands on www.comoonline.org. For further information, or to make a donation, visit www.meningitisuk.org, www.meningitis-trust.org or www.meningitis.org.

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