Don’t mistake the signs of meningitis begs Limerick woman who lost both legs
Published 18/09/2011 | 13:21
A woman who lost both legs after contracting meningitis is warning others to spot the signs of the potentially killer disease.
Double amputee Norma McCarthy wants the public to learn the symptoms of meningitis, which are similar to the flu or a hangover and include fever, vomiting, dislike of bright lights and neck stiffness and a rash.
The 27-year-old, from Kilcornan, Co Limerick, maintains her disability has never held her back, but does not want others to suffer the same way.
"The most important advice I can give to anyone is to take the awareness message seriously," she said.
"Know the symptoms and you could save a life. If someone is not feeling well take them to the hospital because it can be detected.
"I wouldn't like to see this happen to anybody else. It's a terrible ordeal to have to go through, skin grafts, operations, up and down to theatre. But I got through it with great support."
Young adults are twice as likely to carry the bacteria that cause meningitis - which is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord - and septicaemia, the blood poisoning form of the disease. Up to 300 cases of the conditions are recorded each year, with up to 10% of patients dying. A further 20% of survivors are left with serious after-effects including amputations, deafness, blindness and epilepsy.
Recent figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show a dramatic fall in the uptake of meningitis vaccines.
Ms McCarthy, who was launching Meningitis Awareness Week which starts on Monday, was 15 when she felt drowsy after a fall.
She was taken to hospital for fear she had a head or neck injury when a rash appeared on her stomach and medics tested her for meningitis.
Despite missing almost two years of school after spending eight months in hospital - including 111 days in a medically induced coma - and a year at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire - she went back to sit her Leaving Certificate and took courses in secretarial and office administration skills.
"It didn't hold me back at all," added Ms McCarthy, who has two artificial limbs from the knees down.
"I have my own car and drive myself and go to the gym every day."
The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) said people can be vaccinated against many forms of meningitis through the childhood immunisation scheme. But there is no vaccine for Meningococcal Group B disease - which is the biggest killer in Ireland from meningitis.
It is hoped the new MenB vaccine will be licensed and available by the New year.
Diane McConnell, MRF Ireland manager, said: "It is extremely important that children have all immunisations as an incomplete course means that your child will not be fully protected.
"Although this new vaccine - if it is introduced - will make an impact on the number of cases of Men B in Ireland, people should still be aware of the symptoms."
Anyone with concerns can contact the MRF 24 hour freephone helpline is 1800 41 33 44 or log on to www.meningitis.org.