A Kempston woman is backing a charity campaign to get people talking about viral meningitis.
Sharon Picardo is supporting Meningitis Now’s third Viral Meningitis Week, Vocal About Viral, which takes place between May 4 and 10, to dispel myths and raise awareness about the long-term problems sufferers can face.
The 43 year old said: “Viral meningitis turns your life upside down. It’s vital that it’s treated seriously by the public, health professionals and employers.”
Sharon thought she was coming down with the flu when she contracted viral meningitis in November 2011. She said: “I never thought I’d have meningitis. When my flu-like symptoms worsened and didn’t subside, my husband phoned NHS Direct. After speaking to the nurse, he realised it wasn’t just the flu and rushed me to A&E where I was diagnosed with viral meningitis.
“A year later I felt the same symptoms so went to the hospital, just in case, and was turned away after being told it was a migraine. The following day I became ill very quickly and was admitted back into hospital. I had a lumbar puncture and was diagnosed with viral meningitis for the second time. The doctors were fantastic but didn’t think you could contract viral meningitis more than once so consulted a neurologist.
“The neurologist diagnosed me with a condition called mollaret’s meningitis (a reoccurring form of meningitis). In November 2014 I was diagnosed with my third bout of viral meningitis. I am recovering slowly but every time I’m sick it takes its toll on me.
“My life has changed considerably since my diagnosis and I suffer with a number of after-effects including problems with my speech, memory issues and weakness on my left side.”
Up to 6,000 people each year across the UK suffer from viral meningitis, an infection that causes inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. The majority of cases happen during the warmer months.
A Meningitis Now survey found that 97 per cent of sufferers faced debilitating after-effects including exhaustion, headaches, memory loss, depression, anxiety and hearing difficulties. Many have to take long periods off education or work, and struggle with day-to-day tasks that most people take for granted.
And because the symptoms of viral meningitis can be similar to the more dangerous bacterial form of the disease, Meningitis Now is urging sufferers to seek urgent medical help if concerned.
Viral meningitis cannot be treated with antibiotics; rehydration, painkillers and plenty of rest are the best remedy.
Most people will make a full recovery but the process can be slow. The majority of sufferers no longer experience after-effects six months after their illness, but for some the effects can be lifelong.
Director of services, research and education at Meningitis Now Clare Davis: said: “It’s vital that everybody understands how serious viral meningitis can be and that those suffering it and their families are not afraid to speak out about it and seek the support they need.
“For our Viral Meningitis Week we’re calling on everyone to be Vocal About Viral – and help raise awareness by talking about the disease.”
The awareness week is being supported by celebrity and TV doctor Dr Ellie Cannon. She said: “Viral Meningitis Week is all about getting people to talk about the disease, its symptoms and its after-effects.
“The disease can affect anyone of any age, so learn the signs and symptoms, which can include a severe headache, a dislike of bright lights, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting and confusion.
“Carry a Meningitis Now symptoms card and help protect yourself and your family.”
The charity has free viral meningitis factsheets, providing more information for patients, health professionals and employers. All factsheets include a summary of the survey findings and can be found on its website at www.meningitisnow.org.
It is also keen to promote its range of free services for viral meningitis victims, including funding complementary therapies, counselling, one-to-one support and home visits.
For more information, visit www.meningitisnow.org or freephone 0808 80 10 388.