Parents speak out to prevent meningitis

A group of parents who each lost a teenager to meningitis have issued a hard-hitting warning to other parents to ensure their children take up a lifesaving vaccine against the disease.

Charity Meningitis Now says the vaccine take-up is worryingly low, especially among teenagers, known to be the second most at risk group of contracting meningitis after babies and toddlers. Up to a quarter of students carry the bacteria that can cause meningitis compared to one in ten of the general population.

Spearheading the campaign to increase Men ACWY vaccine uptake amongst young adults, the parents are speaking out about the pain of their loss to prevent similar tragedies happening to other families.

Michelle Bresnahan and her family launched 'A Life for a Cure' in memory of her 16-year-old son, Ryan, who died from meningitis on 31st March 2010. Ryan was fit and healthy and a keen sportsman, who "embraced life with charm and personality, living every moment to the full".

On 30th March 2010, Ryan complained of a stomach ache and still felt unwell the next morning. Within an hour of waking up, he was unconscious and despite being rushed to hospital and doctors' efforts, nothing could be done to save him.

"Our lives changed on 31st March 2010 and the events surrounding that day will stay with us forever," Michelle said. "Our ultimate dream is to see an end to suffering caused by meningitis and for no parent to have to lose their son or daughter to this brutal disease.

"You never fully recover from this kind of tragedy but we take comfort in celebrating his life and turning our tragedy into something positive. We believe Ryan would be proud."

Along with other bereaved parents Paul Gentry, Julia Styles and Ailsa Sugrue, Michelle is urging all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated, especially those who are heading off to university this autumn.

"We're also calling on parents to ask another parent in their son's or daughter's friendship group to do likewise – the more awareness we can raise the better.

"If by speaking out and sharing our tragic stories we can persuade other parents and their children to act then our children's deaths will not have been in vain.

"No one should be left counting the cost of inaction when there is a quick and effective vaccination freely available."

The vaccine has been offered to all 17 and 18-year-olds and all university entrants, aged 19-25, free on the NHS since August 2015, to combat the rise in Men W cases in adolescents. But cases continue to increase in England, from 30 in 2011/12 to 210 last year (2015/16), up from 176 the previous year.

Meanwhile uptake of the vaccine across the country remains stubbornly low at about one-third of those eligible.

Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive at Meningitis Now, said: "This is a brave step by these parents to speak out and a timely reminder to others to make sure young people get the Men ACWY vaccine.

"Over 17 per cent of all cases of Men W occur in the 14 to 24 age group, with first year students being at particular risk.

"We remain deeply concerned about the low level of vaccine uptake - just 33% last year, which remains disappointingly below the 2015 uptake rate of 38%."

"It's vital that young people and their parents are not complacent about the threat of meningitis - we urge them to take up this lifesaving vaccine."