Parents Who Lost Teenagers To Meningitis Urge Others To Ensure Young Adults Get Vaccinated

'It’s vital that young people and their parents are not complacent.'

A group of four parents who each lost a teenager to meningitis have issued a hard-hitting warning to other mums and dads about the importance of ensuring children are vaccinated.

The parents - Michelle Bresnahan, Paul Gentry, Julia Styles and Ailsa Sugrue - are spearheading charity Meningitis Now’s campaign to increase the Men ACWY vaccine uptake amongst young adults.

The parents have spoken out about the pain of their losses in the hope that it will prevent similar tragedies happening to other families.

“We all know only too well how devastating this disease can be and have seen the worst it can do, destroying young lives and tearing apart those who remain,” said Michelle Bresnahan, whose 16-year-old son, Ryan, died from meningitis on 31 March 2010.

“We want to appeal to all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated, especially those who are heading off to university this autumn.”

Michelle Bresnahan, Paul Gentryand Julia Styles, (Ailsa Sugrue was unavailable for the photoshoot).
Michelle Bresnahan, Paul Gentryand Julia Styles, (Ailsa Sugrue was unavailable for the photoshoot).

Bresnahan added: “We’re also calling on parents to ask another parent in their son’s or daughter’s friendship group to do likewise – the more awareness we can raise the better.

“If by speaking out and sharing our tragic stories we can persuade other parents and their children to act, then our children’s deaths will not have been in vain.

“No one should be left counting the cost of inaction when there is a quick and effective vaccination freely available.”

Bresnahan explained that her son had complained of a stomach ache on 30 March 2010 and still felt unwell the next morning.

Within an hour of waking up, he was unconscious and despite being rushed to the hospital, nothing could be done to save him.

“You never fully recover from this kind of tragedy, but we take comfort in celebrating his life and turning our tragedy into something positive,” added Bresnahan.

“We believe Ryan would be proud.”

Ailsa Sugrue’s son Teygan, was 19 when he was struck down by meningitis. Paul Gentry’s daughter Isabel, was just 16.

Julia Styles’ daughter Emily was 19 when she contracted meningococcal meningitis on New Year’s Eve 2013. She died just hours later on New Year’s Day.

Meningitis And Septicaemia Facts

Source: Meningitis Now.

  • Meningitis is usually caused by bacteria or viruses.
  • It is defined as the 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.
  • The early signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia can be similar to flu and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and muscle pain.
  • More specific 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 soft spot on top of the head.
  • There are an estimated 3,200 cases of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia each year in the UK.

Meningitis Now’s campaign coincides with a campaign by Public Health England (PHE) to increase vaccination rates among young people.

The Men ACWY vaccine offers protection against four groups of meningococcal bacteria: A, C, W and Y.

It has been offered to all 17- and 18-year-olds and all university entrants, aged 19-25, free on the NHS since August 2015.

But uptake of the vaccine across the country remains low - at about one-third of those eligible - and cases of meningitis have continued to increase in England, from 30 in 2011/12 to 210 last year (2015/16).

Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive at Meningitis Now, said: “This is a brave step by these parents to speak out and a timely reminder to others to make sure young people get the Men ACWY vaccine.

“Teenagers are the second most at risk group of contracting meningitis after babies and toddlers and up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in ten of the general population.

“Over 17% of all cases of Men W occur in the 14-24 age group, with first year students being at particular risk.

“It’s vital that young people and their parents are not complacent about the threat of meningitis - we urge them to take up this lifesaving vaccine.”

Those who are due to leave school this summer, or who are aged 17-18 and not in school (born between 1 September 1998 and 31 August 1999) are now eligible for the vaccine and should contact their GP practice.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE said: “We have seen a rapid increase in Men W cases across England in recent years and vaccination is the most effective way of protecting against infection.

“Young people are particularly at risk as they are carriers of the disease. Being in confined environments with close contact, such as university halls, hostels when travelling, or attending festivals, increases the chances of infection if unprotected.

“Get vaccinated as soon as possible, remain vigilant and seek urgent medical help if you have concerns for yourself or friends.”

See below for common signs and symptoms of meningitis in children and adults.

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