Words by Olly DeHerrera, Print Production Editor
Last week, the University of Sussex shared the tragic news that a student has passed away as a result of a meningococcal meningitis infection. Young people, particularly students in universities, are the second most ‘at risk’ group of contracting the meningitis infection – according to the NHS. Although the meningococcal bacteria is carried by approximately 10% of the population- it poses a serious risk if it enters the bloodstream and is able to infect the blood (septicaemia) or the brain (meningitis). As the charity Meningitis Now explains: “Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. These membranes are called the meninges – they help protect the brain from injury and infection.”
Since the bacteria lives in the throat, it is passed mainly by coughing, sneezing and kissing. Those with weakened immune systems, such as the very young, elderly, or immuno-compromised, are at the most serious risk of developing meningitis from contracting the bacteria. New university students are at a particular risk of the disease as they mix with large amounts of new people and expose themselves to a much higher risk of encountering meningococcal bacteria.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to dramatically decrease your risk of developing meningitis or septicaemia if you come into contact with the meningococcal bacteria. Most babies born in the UK will be routinely vaccinated against Meningitis B and Meningitis C; all young people below the age of 25 who are living or studying in England are eligible to receive the MenACWY vaccine if they have not already had it in secondary school or since. You should contact your GP to book an appointment. You can also contact your doctor’s office to request information on what vaccinations you have received already.
Sussex university has also urged all students to familiarise themselves with the symptoms of the deadly infection. Both meningitis and septicaemia are fast-acting infections that can cause death in only 24 hours. The condition is particularly deadly as symptoms often initially resemble that of a cold or extreme burnout- both common among students. Symptoms can include: A fever/feeling cold, vomiting, an aversion to bright lights, confusion, severe muscle pain, headaches, extreme drowsiness, and a characteristic red rash which does not disappear when pressed with a cool glass. However, the NHS advise not to wait for a rash to appear and contact 999 immediately if you suspect yourself or someone else has meningitis or septicaemia. Since the condition develops quickly, it is often flatmates, partners or family who raise the alarm.
Birmingham University student, Samantha Field, shared with the Birmingham mail how her mum stepped in to save her life after she developed the deadly infection. “The headaches stopped my sleep,” she said. “I couldn’t regulate my temperature. I became so weak, I struggled to walk. I lost appetite and on my last day of holiday was sick after breakfast.”
Samantha continued, “I also had a horrible sensation that I was falling like a drop rollercoaster, but I wasn’t, I was sat on my bed. At this point I had every meningitis symptom except the rash. But I didn’t know what meningitis was in detail other than it caused a rash”.
The University of Sussex Student Support is offering emotional support for those who are affected or may be concerned by this news. The Badger expresses its deep sympathies for the loss of one of our fellow students. For more information on symptoms of meningitis and how to protect yourself, scan the QR code above.
Featured Image Courtesy of The Blue Diamond Gallery (https://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/medical/m/meningitis.html)