Meningitis Awareness Week: Jessica's Story

14 Sep 2020
Meningitis Awareness Week: Jessica's Story
A young woman who contracted meningitis just before lockdown is encouraging people to know the signs and symptoms. She is sharing her story to raise awareness this Meningitis Awareness Week (14th - 20th September), as cases of the diseases are expected to increase over the next few months.

In March 2020, shortly after her 18th birthday, Jessica fell ill. “I didn’t think anything of it at first," she said. "Later on it started to feel like I’d been kicked all over my body, and I noticed a small purple mark on my wrist.”

Jessica was taken to hospital by her mother, Tracey, who performed the ‘glass test’ on Jessica’s mark and found that it didn’t go away – a potential early sign of meningitis and septicaemia.
“I didn’t really think there was any way it could be meningitis,” Tracey said. “But Jessica was so ill, being sick and in so much pain. I just knew that something wasn’t right.”

In Bedford emergency department, with coronavirus concerns increasing at that time, doctors questioned if Jessica had been recently abroad. She then began having seizures and was placed into an induced coma.

Tracey said: “I was in such a state. I was wondering if I’d ever get her back, if I’d ever see her alive again. I kept wondering if I had done something wrong, if it was my fault somehow.”
Doctors confirmed that Jessica had contracted meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia (also known as sepsis), which can be fatal. Fortunately, Jessica pulled through and was sent home from hospital on March 17th. Days later, UK wide lockdown began in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jessica said: “When you’re in hospital, all you want is to see your family and friends. Now I was home but I still couldn’t see them. I was scared that I would contract COVID if I went anywhere, and that maybe COVID would cause the meningitis to come back.”

Meningitis is spread through close contact and new figures from Public Health England Meningococcal Reference Unit show that cases of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia dropped significantly in England and Wales during lockdown – currently at less than a third of cases compared to the same months in previous years. However, as restrictions ease, cases are expected to rise.

Jessica and Tracey are supporting Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) in using Meningitis Awareness Week to warn people not to be complacent. Cases are expected to rise as people socialise again, and as we move into the winter season which is when we see a peak in yearly cases. For example, MRF funded research shows that carriage rates of meningococcal bacteria in university students, one of the high risk-groups for the disease, increase rapidly in the first week of term as students begin to socialise. On the first day, 7% of students carry the bacteria, 11% on day two, 19% on day three and 23% on day four. Among students living in catered halls of residence, carriage rates reached 34% by December of the first term.

Jessica in hospital suffering from bacterial meningitis.

Rob Dawson, Director of Support at MRF added: “Even in the midst of a COVID pandemic, urgent action against meningitis saves lives, so it’s vital people know the signs and symptoms and how to act if someone is ill. While the country is rightly staying alert for COVID, they must also remember to think about meningitis too.”

Jessica has continued to suffer the after effects of meningitis, experiencing difficulty with motor skills, tinnitus, headaches and fatigue. She said: “I wish I’d been taught about meningitis at school. I had never even heard of it before. When they told me in hospital what I had, I didn’t know what they meant.”
“Our support services have helped many families during the pandemic, including people like Jessica and Tracey,” said Rob. “COVID-19 has created many extra challenges for those affected by meningitis. If you or a loved one have ever experienced an infectious disease before, just the thought of a pandemic is terrifying. Health anxiety has been a great challenge for many with experience of meningitis.”

Despite her struggles, Jessica hopes to return to Bedford College as soon as possible with plans to eventually train as a police officer.

Click here to find out how you can support Meningitis Awarenes Week.
Alert students to the importance of meningitis vaccines
Alert students to the importance of meningitis vaccines
Just £10/€12/$13.30 per month alerts 6,000 students to the importance of meningitis vaccines
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Holly Edwards - Communications Manager
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