A mother from Bosham whose son almost died from meningitis is urging young people to book an appointment to get their free vaccine.
Debbie Collino has shared her family’s first-hand experience as part of national Meningitis Awareness Week, September 18 to 24.
Debbie said, “My son Matt contracted meningococcal meningitis in his second month at Loughborough University in 2010, age 19.
“At first, the university doctor thought he just had ‘freshers flu’.
“Matt decided to go and stay with his girlfriend at the time who was a short train ride away in Nottingham.
“That decision saved his life, not to be alone.
“Matt’s symptoms were getting worse and he had very cold hands and feet.
“His girlfriend took him to casualty but Matt was told again he probably had flu.
“Some hours later Matt’s girlfriend was concerned because he was very hot and was not making sense when speaking and was really sleepy.
“My husband decided to drive to Matt and when he arrived hours later he could see Matt was gravely ill, so he took him back to hospital.
“By this stage Matt was so unwell that he was rushed straight through to the resuscitation room and the medical teams began their life saving work.
“Matt now had a rash appearing. The doctors stressed he was unlikely to pull through.
“Matt spent four days in intensive care and a further two weeks in high dependency and neurological wards.
“Initially he couldn’t walk or speak and his eyesight was affected.
“Intense rehabilitation meant he returned to university later that year and went on to complete his degree eventually.
“My grandfather died of the disease aged 28 and my niece also had it age four.
“I’m keen to get the message out there and encourage everyone eligible to have the vaccines available to protect themselves and also know the sign and symptoms of meningitis.”
She advised university students to ‘trust your instincts’ if you or a friend becomes suddenly unwell, to check someone regularly.
Teenagers are a high risk age group for meningitis and septicaemia and university freshers are particularly at risk because they mix with so many other students.
The MenACWY vaccination programme was introduced in 2015 following a rapid rise in a new and particularly deadly type of meningitis - meningococcal W meningitis and septicaemia (MenW), identified by Meningitis Research Foundation’s (MRF) Meningococcus Genome Library project.
Uptake of the MenACWY vaccine among older teenagers who are eligible to get it from their GP has been worryingly low - only 33 per cent of school leavers in 2016 had taken up the vaccine, MRF said.
Young people up to the age of 20 and university freshers up to age 25 are advised to check their eligibility and get the vaccination whether starting university or not.
Ideally students should be vaccinated more than two weeks before starting university, but they can still get the MenACWY vaccine from a GP once they start university in most of the UK.
Meningitis and septicaemia can develop suddenly and progress rapidly.
Early symptoms include headache, vomiting, limb pain, fever, and cold hands and feet.
Students should be alert to the symptoms and should not wait for a rash or neck stiffness to develop before seeking medical attention urgently.
Vinny Smith, chief executive of MRF said: “We’re very grateful to Debbie and Matt for raising awareness during Meningitis Awareness Week.
“By getting the free meningitis vaccine, young people are not only protecting themselves from a potentially deadly disease, but also protecting others by stopping the spread.
“It’s important to remember that this vaccine doesn’t prevent all types of meningitis, so it’s vital for students away from home to watch out for their friends if they’re unwell. If they have meningitis it can be like a very bad hangover that quickly gets worse. It can be deadly, so act fast and get medical help.”
MRF’s eligibility checker makes it easy for anyone to find out if they are eligible to get the MenACWY vaccine free: www.meningitis.org/oneshot
Find out how you can get involved in Meningitis Awareness Week here: www.meningitis.org/maw17.
For any questions about meningitis and septicaemia call MRF’s free helpline on 080 8800 3344 or visit www.meningitis.org.
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