Why I... think all first-year students should be vaccinated against meningitis

August 20, 1999

Emma Jones, now 23, suffered from meningitis during her first year at Durham University.

I had meningitis before the first clusters of cases started happening at universities. Staff at Durham University seemed to know little about it, and I think they thought it was just an elaborate way to get out of first-year exams.

There are many bugs around in a hall of residence, and students need to be aware of all the signs linked to meningitis, which can be mistaken for flu or a hangover.

The government's recommendation that all first-year students be vaccinated is a great idea. Although the vaccination is not 100 per cent effective, I do not understand why some GPs are reluctant to comply. Surely prevention is better than dealing with the after-effects.

I first noticed the headache when I arrived back at my parents' house to revise for a week. I took some painkillers, but early the next morning I started to vomit. My temperature went up to 104°F and I was shaking. My parents called a doctor, but he thought it was just a virus. By this point, bright light was unbearable and I had pains in my neck.

By lunchtime spots had appeared on my arms and legs. The next doctor was convinced I had some tropical disease. Fortunately he telephoned the hospital who told him to bring me in. The nurse who saw me recognised the symptoms straight away. She said that once you have seen the rash you never forget it.

That evening I was given antibiotics but stopped breathing. I was given an anaesthetic and my parents were told not to expect me to survive. I came round the next Friday.

A month or so later I heard that unless I sat my exams in August, I would have to repeat the entire first year. The principal did try to make things easier for me. I was allowed to sit my exams in his office and, as I could not concentrate for more than half an hour at a time, I was given cups of tea during my breaks.

It took me 18 months to recover fully, although I started back at university the next term. I really struggled with my work, but I was determined not to let it beat me.

Should all first years be vaccinated in October? Email us on soapbox@thesis.co.uk

Interview by Jennifer Currie

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