Parents urged to get teenagers vaccinated against killer disease ahead of university year

Alisha Bartolini on her 18th birthday - her heartbroken mum is supporting the Meningitis Now campaign

Alisha Bartolini on her 18th birthday - her heartbroken mum is supporting the Meningitis Now campaign

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A grief-stricken mother is supporting leading UK meningitis charity Meningitis Now by urging parents to ensure teenagers get vaccinated against the disease before heading off to university this autumn.

Alisha Bartolini was studying at Liverpool Hope University when she died of meningococcal group C (Men C) in November last year. Her heartbroken mother, Michaela, 41, is sending a plea to parents to ensure teens are taking up the vaccine as part of the NHS Men ACWY vaccination programme running throughout August.

She said: “Alisha was a beautiful, intelligent 18-year-old girl who was loved by everyone that met her. She was far too young to be taken by this dreadful disease. No parent should have to face the death of a child; and no one could have prepared us for the news that we’d lost her. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare and has left our entire family devastated.

“The pain we feel will never go away. I want to urge all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated, so that they never have to go through what we have.”

Alisha was found dead in her university halls after a Halloween-themed night out.

One in six cases of meningococcal disease occurs in 15-24 year olds.

The Department of Health announced in June that the Men ACWY vaccine will be offered to all 17 and 18-year-olds and all university entrants, aged 19-25 free on the NHS from August this year, to combat the rise in Men W cases in adolescents.

Sue Davie, Chief Executive at Meningitis Now, said: “With the increase in Men W cases among this age group, it is more important than ever for parents to ensure that their children are protected.

“In order to meet this need, we have developed a highly-focused campaign designed to reach out to parents, grandparents and legal guardians. The campaign, called ‘Off to Uni’ consists of a series of parent and student resources including information leaflets, new signs and symptoms cards and branded wristbands, all of which can be easily downloaded or ordered from our web site.

“The campaign aims to ensure that loved ones heading off to university this autumn are not complacent about meningitis and take the necessary steps to protect themselves, stay vigilant and seek immediate medical help if they suspect the disease.”

Students are particularly vulnerable to meningitis due to close contact in shared accommodation, such as halls of residence, and exposure to bacteria and viruses that their bodies may not have met before.

Early symptoms of meningitis can be mistaken as common illnesses such as flu or hangovers, especially at the start of term when so many students are suffering from ‘fresher’s flu’.

Advice from Meningitis Now is for students to take up the vaccine and learn the signs and symptoms looking out for themselves and others, and seeking urgent medical help if they suspect the disease.

Sue Davie added: “There are still strains without vaccines and there will still be people who are not protected by these vaccine programmes.

“It’s vital to learn the signs and symptoms, stay vigilant and seek immediate medical help if you suspect the disease.”

From August 2015 GP practices will call young people aged 17 – 18 to offer one dose of the Men ACWY vaccine

The same age groups will also be offered the vaccine in 2016 and 2017.

This vaccine is also available to older university entrants (aged 19 – 25).

Meningitis Now is the UK’s leading charity working to save lives and rebuild the futures of people affected by meningitis through research, support and awareness.

Find out more online at www.meningitisnow.org.

Meningitis and Septicaemia Facts

Meningitis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses

Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord

Septicaemia is blood poisoning

Some bacteria that cause meningitis also cause septicaemia

Meningitis and septicaemia often happen together – it is vital to know all the signs and symptoms

The early signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia can be similar to ‘flu and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and muscle pain.

The more specific signs and symptoms include fever with cold hands and feet, drowsiness, confusion, pale blotchy skin, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights and a rash which doesn’t fade under pressure.

In babies, symptoms can also include being floppy and unresponsive, dislike of being handled, rapid breathing, an unusual, moaning cry and a bulging fontanelle (soft spot on the top of the head).

There are an estimated 3,200 cases of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia each year in the UK.

Following bacterial meningitis or septicaemia, one in ten people will die and at least a third of survivors will be left with lifelong after-effects such as hearing loss, epilepsy, limb loss or learning difficulties

Meningitis and septicaemia can affect anyone, of any age, at any time. However, babies and young children are most at risk, and young people between 15 – 24 years are also a higher risk group.

In the past 20 years, effective vaccines have been developed to give protection against SOME types of meningitis. These are offered to all babies and young children as part of the UK childhood immunisation programme. BUT there are not vaccines to protect against ALL types.

A vaccine to protect against meningococcal group B (Men B) disease, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia, will be introduced into the UK childhood immunisation programme in September 2015.

If you suspect someone may be ill with meningitis or septicaemia, trust your instincts and get immediate medical help.