Get aware of meningitis, urge Northamptonshire residents affected by the disease

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A Kettering mum and a husband from Thrapston hope to use their first-hand experience of meningitis and septicaemia can raise awareness of the illnesses.

This week is Meningitis Awareness Week, and a charity wants people to use it to learn more about the symptoms.

Meningitis Research Foundation say meningitis and septicaemia are deadly diseases which can strike without warning – killing one in ten and leaving a quarter of survivors with life-altering after-effects, including deafness, brain damage and loss of limbs.

Children under five and students are most at risk, but the diseases can strike at any age and not all forms are currently covered by vaccines.

Craig Hook, from Thrapston, said: “My wife Melanie had pneumococcal meningitis and septicaemia in 2003 and it has left her profoundly disabled.

“She was affected in the prime of her life. She has been left paralysed from the chin down and requires a ventilator to breathe. Melanie has learnt to communicate via an alphabet board and to use a computer by means of a chin switch.

“She has had to watch our children growing up from a wheelchair, without even being able to cuddle them. I’m supporting Meningitis Awareness Week as everyone needs to know the symptoms so they can seek medical help fast.”

Meanwhile, Avril Bartley-Smith, whose son Simon fell ill in 1999, said: “Our neighbour, a GP, acted instantly and injected him with antibiotics. The hospital crash team were on standby when we arrived as meningococcal septicaemia was developing rapidly.

“He spent five days on a life support system had a happy ending. He survived and leads a normal very active life.”

“I’m supporting Meningitis Awareness Week as everyone needs to know the symptoms so they can seek medical help fast.”

Christopher Head, chief executive of Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “We’re very grateful to Avril and Craig for supporting Meningitis Awareness Week. Meningitis and septicaemia are diseases you never expect to happen but their personal experiences really bring home how devastating these diseases can be and why it’s so important to be aware of the symptoms and be prepared to act fast when loved ones, family and friends fall sick.”

The charity says the first symptoms of meningitis or septicaemia are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell.

Limb pain, pale skin, and cold hands and feet often appear earlier than the rash, neck stiffness, dislike of bright lights and confusion can also be signs.

Vaccines have almost eliminated some types of meningitis but not all of them, children are currently vaccinated against Hib, MenC and 13 strains of pneumococcal meningitis. A MenB vaccine (Bexsero) was recommended for infants in the UK in March 2014 and is available privately but a timetable for implementation free of charge on the NHS is yet to be confirmed.

The UK Government has also introduced a new MenC booster campaign aimed at students starting university. GPs can administer the vaccine free of charge until October 31.

The booster campaign will be repeated every year until 2017. New students are at increased risk of encountering the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease because they are often living in busy halls of residence and in close contact with other new students during fresher’s week.

Students should get immunised at least two weeks before they go away to study.