Mum warns of deadly disease

A Thames Valley mum's warning parents about the dangers of meningitis after her 12 year old son Ben died from the deadly disease almost two years ago.

A Thames Valley mum's warning parents about the dangers of meningitis after her 12 year old son Ben died from the deadly disease almost two years ago.

Nicola Neilson's son Ben Smith died from the deadly brain bug at the age of 12 in February 2009, just days after showing any sign of being ill.

People of all ages are at risk from the brain bug, which can kill in under four hours. People are most at risk from meningitis during the winter months, with the majority of dangerous bacterial forms striking due to the cold weather causing weakened immune systems.

Nicola recalled how she'd picked Ben up from his father's house on February 23.  She said he looked grey and she could tell something was wrong.

The 37-year-old, from Holberton Road, said:

 "He initially complained of pains in his leg, then he developed a headache and started to be sick. When I picked him up I noticed a rash under his armpit and did the tumbler test as soon as we got home."

A rash also began to appear on his arm and around his ankles, which didn't fade under pressure. Nicola rushed Ben to the doctors where he was transferred straight to the Royal Berkshire Hospital.  An inquest a year ago found that Ben was not treated with potentially life-saving antibiotics until about five hours after he arrived.

Nicola remembers how she had taken him to the toilet, then lay in his bed as they waited to be seen. The rash, caused by blood poisoning, was spreading throughout his body.

Nicola added:

"On the way back from the toilet he said he loved me and seemed ok at this point, although I could tell he was in a great deal of pain. I was lying with him when he suddenly sat bolt upright and took a huge gulp of air. That was basically it.  Everyone started running around and trying to treat him.  He was transferred to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, but he had already suffered brain damage and died the next day. It was just 48 hours after she showed any sign of being ill."

Ben died from the group B strain of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia, which occurs when meningococcal bacteria enter the blood strain and multiply uncontrollably, poisoning the blood and completely overwhelming the immune system damaging the blood vessels, tissues and organs.

There are vaccines for Meningitis C, Hib and pneumococcal meningitis but there is still no protection from Meningitis B - the most common form of meningitis in the UK. 

Nicola's 10-year-old daughter Deana also fell ill with meningitis earlier this year but Nicola got her to hospital quickly and she was treated before the bacteria could cause any damage.

Nicola added:

"I always thought it was just babies and young children who fell ill with meningitis.  Obviously I now know this isn't the case and I hope that through sharing Ben's story that people will be more vigilant to the disease."

Meningitis Glass Test  Classic symptoms of meningitis are a headache, stiff neck and a dislike of bright light. Other symptoms can include difficulty supporting own weight, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea and confusion and drowsiness.

Common symptoms of meningococcal septicaemia include aching limbs, cold hands and feet and a rash which starts like pin prick marks and develops rapidly into purple bruising.

Not everyone gets all the symptoms, and they can appear in any order. Children under five and those aged 15 to 25 are most at risk, particularly those who have recently suffered from a cold or flu, but the disease can affect anyone of any age.

Meningitis UK Chief Executive Steve Dayman, who founded Meningitis UK after his son Spencer died from the disease, said:

"We're really grateful to Nicola for supporting Meningitis UK and our winter campaign. What happened to Ben sadly highlights what a devastating disease meningitis is and how quickly it can take hold.

He added:

"Knowing the symptoms and getting swift treatment can mean the difference between life and death."

MENINGITIS FACT BOX

  • Classic symptoms include a headache, stiff neck and a dislike of bright light. Other symptoms can include difficulty supporting own weight, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, confusion and drowsiness.
  • It can cause septicaemia, which leads to aching limbs, cold hands and feet and a rash.
  • Meningitis can affect anyone of any age, however babies, children under the age of five, young people aged 16-24 and the elderly are most at risk.
  • Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining that covers the brain and spinal cord.
  • There are approximately 3,000 cases of all forms of meningitis recorded in the UK every year. 300 people will die and hundreds more are left with permanent disabilities.
  • Every week, six families face the traumatic loss of a loved one to meningitis.
  • No vaccine exists for Meningitis B, which is the most common form of the disease – accounting for 90% of meningococcal cases.
  • It can kill in under four hours, which is why prompt medical treatment is so important.

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