Feature: ‘My whole future has been wiped out...’

Michelle and Stuart Jackson.
Michelle and Stuart Jackson.

According to a recent survey, most people over the age of 55 don’t consider themselves to be at risk from deadly meningitis, despite the risk increasing in older adults. Fiona Evans looks at a new national campaign to improve adults’ awareness of the disease’s signs and symptoms.

Last Christmas should have been special for Michelle and Stuart Jackson - their first together as a married couple.

Meningitis Now chief executive Dr Tom Nutt.

Meningitis Now chief executive Dr Tom Nutt.

Instead Michelle was left facing a future without her husband after meningitis claimed his life. Stuart, 56, fell ill in early December and appeared to be making progress before taking a turn for the worse.

“My life has changed completely without my husband,” said Michelle. “We only got married in February 2017 although we had been together for ten years – married and widowed in the same year.

“My whole future has been wiped out and I need to try and find a new one without him. This is devastating and very difficult to get my head around.”

Michelle is supporting a new national awareness campaign, Adults Get It Too, from the charity Meningitis Now.

Anyone of any age can get meningitis, with the risk increasing in older adults

Dr Tom Nutt

The campaign aims to inform adults of the risks they face and encourage them to learn the signs and symptoms of meningitis to help protect themselves and their loved ones. A recent survey revealed that 95 per cent of people aged over 55 do not consider themselves to be at risk from deadly meningitis, despite the risk increasing in older adults.

The study, carried out for Meningitis Now, also found that three-quarters of this age group are not confident in recognising the signs and symptoms of the disease.

Launching the campaign, Meningitis Now’s chief executive, Dr Tom Nutt, said: “These findings are a cause for concern. The popular misconception is that meningitis and septicaemia only affect babies and young children. Many in this older age group may be more concerned about their children or grandchildren. We need to scotch this myth once and for all. Anyone of any age can get meningitis, with the risk increasing in older adults.”

The charity reports that, based on Public Health England figures, case numbers in older age groups are on the increase, particularly amongst those aged over 65.

Symptoms of meningitis.

Symptoms of meningitis.

“This combination of increasing risk and lack of awareness is putting older people at risk from this devastating disease,” Tom added.

Populous Research undertook a survey of 1,100 adults across the UK to understand adult attitudes to meningitis and the level of risk they think the disease poses to them.

Meningitis Now’s Adults Get It Too campaign is urging adults to learn the signs and symptoms of the disease by ordering free signs and symptoms cards from its website at www.MeningitisNow.org/adults. Early signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia can be similar to flu, tummy bug or a hangover and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, stomach cramps and fever with cold hands and feet. More specific signs and symptoms include drowsiness, confusion, pale blotchy skin, stiff neck, dislike of bright lights and a rash, which doesn’t fade under pressure. There are several vaccines to prevent meningitis routinely offered to babies and young children, teenagers and young people, and those aged 65 and over as part of the UK immunisation schedule. However, there is not a vaccine to prevent all types. Meningitis Now stresses that without vaccines for all types of meningitis, remaining vigilant is vital.

As well as a targeted social media campaign, the charity is undertaking a national advertising campaign and providing resources for GP surgeries, community centres and workplaces. It is also working with MPs, pharmacists, councillors and community leaders to help spread awareness.

As Michelle faces her second Christmas without her husband, her simple message resonates with her own loss.

“It’s so important that people our age know about this disease and the impact it can have – learn the signs and symptoms to help look after yourself and your loved ones,” she said.

For more information on meningitis visit Meningitis Now or call the helpline on 0808 80 10 388.