Meningococcal disease strikes an estimated 1.2 million people each year – and out of these cases, a staggering number of 135,000 deaths are reported. In the United States alone, as many as 2,500 Americans are struck with the disease with roughly 10-15% of cases taking a fatal end. For some of us, these figures might just be nothing more than statistics – mere numbers on a piece of paper. But for others, these figures represent real lives and real loss. They represent teenagers with bright futures awaiting them, small children probably too young to grasp the concept of life and death – all taken away far too soon from their families.
Mother on a mission
Lynn Bozoff’s son, Evan would have been 36 years old this year if he had not lost his battle with meningitis 16 years ago. An honour student and a pitcher on his college baseball team, Evan was the definition of healthy. But everything came crashing down when he was struck by meningococcal disease.
“In just 26 days, in 3 different hospitals, Evan’s body was ravaged by the illness. Both his arms and legs were amputated but that wasn’t enough to salvage his life. He had to endure 10 hours of seizures, lost liver and kidney function and was finally declared brain dead,” Lynn recounts. As devastated as she was by her loss, she eventually picked herself up and channelled her grief into the National Meningitis Association, a non-profit organization aimed at educating families about meningococcal disease and its prevention because “no parent ought to watch their child be taken off life support and be carried away.”
One crucial preventative measure, stresses Lynn is vaccination. “I’ve always been a mother who vaccinates her kids. But at that time, I wasn’t aware there was a vaccine for meningococcal disease. The bottom line is that my son didn’t have to die. There were vaccines which could have saved him but we were not informed about them.”
Awareness is key
Like Lynn previously, many are unaware of the dangers of meningococcal disease and the importance of getting vaccinated against it. A survey by public health initiative, Voices of Meningitis found that out of 2,000 mothers in the US, 45% didn’t realize that the disease could result in death within 24 hours of symptom onset while 28% thought receiving the vaccine’s primary dose was vital but a second dose wasn’t essential. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children receive one dose of the vaccine at age 11 or 12, accompanied by a second one at 16 years old. As vaccine protection tends to diminish within 5 years, the importance of a second shot cannot be overlooked.
Hence, Lynn hopes with more awareness initiatives, parents will be well-informed on how to protect their kids in every way possible. “I’m not afraid of vaccines. I’m afraid about what occurs when parents choose not to vaccinate.”
- Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides. This disease can include septicaemia (blood infection) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain).
- Most survivors fully recover without permanent after effects but some are left with long-term disabilities like limb loss, mental retardation and hearing loss.
- It can transmit via infected respiratory secretion and close, prolonged contact with infected people increases the risk.
- It may strike anyone of any age. However, young adults and small children are mainly affected.
Meningitis Research Foundation. Available at www.meningitis.org
Voices of Meningitis. Available at www.voicesofmeningitis.org
WebMD. Available at www.webmd.com