Like many parents, I welcomed the news that teenagers would be getting vaccinated against meningitis. It's a potentially deadly disease that can strike with frightening speed and even if not fatal, can have life-changing consequences.
Yes, it's rare, but as a doctor I have seen enough sad cases in my career and have witnessed the tragedy of a friend losing a healthy teenage son to this awful disease. As a consequence, every cough, sniffle, rash and headache reported by my kids is watched like a hawk. Several nights of sleep have been lost from getting up to check that all was well as yet another trivial cold virus sent my parental paranoia into overdrive.
But don't think, as I first did, that I could let my guard down once they were vaccinated. The new vaccine offered to teenagers protects against most meningitis ACW and Y strains but not meningitis B - one of the commonest strains of bacterial meningitis that can kill in 10% of cases. One in four teenagers apparently carries meningococcal bacteria in their throats....and then, come university (or earlier), shares those bugs with a multitude of friends by various degrees of social interaction! The stress and exhaustion of exams, late nights partying and being away from vigilant and caring parents probably doesn't help either. Of course, those bugs rarely go on to cause meningitis - but, after babies, teenagers and young adults are the most at-risk group.
So, why are they not getting the B vaccine?
Babies born after 1 May 2015 are being vaccinated as the government rolls out the vaccination programme to the most at-risk group first. Apparently, the evidence for vaccinating teens is less clear and a trial is recommended before MenB vaccine is offered to older kids too. It seems it may not be as cost-effective in a cash-strapped NHS because the toll in teenagers is less than in babies - though that's no comfort for grieving parents who do lose teenagers to MenB.
As a result, some parents of older babies and teens have resorted to paying for private MenB vaccinations to allay some of their fears - but it isn't cheap at up to £300 and many private clinics are struggling to obtain stock.
So, what can you do?
If your kids have had meningitis vaccines you may think they are safe - think again. No vaccine is 100% effective so any strain can still strike - but your teenager may not be covered against Meningitis B at all.
Make sure your family is aware of the signs of meningitis in teens / adults.
It may not necessarily present with the classic rash of spots and blotches that don't disappear when you press a glass on to them.....so don't wait to see the rash before getting help.
Muscle aches, fever, cold hands and feet, vomiting, confusion and irritability, drowsiness, stiff neck, convulsions or dislike of bright lights may also indicate meningitis. The problem is, some of these occur with less serious illness - but if the symptoms are getting worse quickly, or you just feel that something isn't right, get help immediately.
Read more about the symptoms, signs, vaccines and treatment of all strains of meningitis at the following sites:
Via the MeningitisNow site you can also download a great app for iPhone or Android on the symptoms and signs to look out for.
The fight to protect our babies, kids, teens and young adults against this dreadful disease goes on. If you would like to help raise money for more research then join my inspirational friend in her efforts to reach half a million pounds for meningitis research as a tribute to her son, via her charity A Life for a Cure. More info at the website www.ryanbresnahan.org
Or try this link https://www.meningitisnow.org/support-us/ for loads of ways to get involved.