On Sunday, 24th April, people all over the world will be raising awareness for World Meningitis Day. It is a day to raise the global profile of meningitis and septicaemia, emphasise the importance of vaccination, and provide support to those dealing with the often life-long consequences of the disease.
At the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO), we work with our international members and partners to reduce the incidence and impact of meningitis worldwide. For World Meningitis Day our theme is '24 Hours - Time to Act'. We want to highlight the importance of 24 hours when it comes to this potentially devastating disease.
'Meningitis' means the inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The three main types of meningitis are bacterial, viral and fungal. The signs and symptoms may vary but can mimic that of a common cold and can develop rapidly over a few hours. It is often seen accompanied by septicaemia (blood poisoning). Meningitis kills one in ten people affected, and leaves one in four of the survivors with a life-long disability.
As President of CoMO and a former CEO of Meningitis Research Foundation, I have been involved with people affected by this disease for many years and know the devastating effect it can have on individuals and families. Your world is turned upside down, in moments. Happy, loving, successful - in short, ordinary - families are thrown into confusion and pain by the unwanted and all-too-fast arrival of this dreadful disease.
I was personally moved, along with people all over the world, by the devastating story of five year old Faye Burdett, who sadly passed away on Valentine's Day this year after a short but intense fight with meningitis. Faye's story, and subsequent pictures of her battling with this dreadful disease, brought the reality of meningitis into the public eye and inspired a record-breaking number of signatures on a petition for the increased availability of the Meningococcal B vaccine in the UK. Public concern over the lack of preventative measures for meningitis prompted the UK government to hold parliamentary hearings to discuss the viability of immunising more children.
Experiences like Faye's are, sadly, not unique. Every minute of every day other families around the world are going through the same thing. Our members at CoMO tell stories of losing a loved one or facing debilitating consequences such as amputations, inspiring us to raise awareness of this potentially deadly disease so that more people can recognise the signs and act quickly. For World Meningitis Day we want to make sure that people know that 24 hours can mean the difference between life and death, or disability, for anyone at any age.
But as well as showing us the devastating impact meningitis can have, these stories are also telling us something else. That many forms of meningitis can be prevented through vaccination. And that, for the types of meningitis for which vaccination is not yet available, it is possible to get life-saving treatment if you know the symptoms and act quickly. We should listen to them.
Learn the facts about meningitis and act fast if you suspect any of the signs and symptoms are showing in someone you know and love. Make sure you and your family have all the available vaccinations against meningitis.
Do all you can to ensure you don't have to tell others a story like so many I have heard before.