When Amy Purdy began snowboarding at the age of 15, she dreamed of one day making it to the Olympics. But when she was 19, she thought she’d gotten a case of the flu, but she actually had come down with bacterial meningitis, a serious, potentially deadly disease that can progress extremely fast.
Within 24 hours, Amy was hospitalized and placed on life support. Doctors told her parents she only had a 2 percent chance of surviving, but after having both legs amputated just below the knee and receiving a kidney from her father, she pulled through.
Seven months later – and still on dialysis – she started snowboarding again. And this year, Amy proudly represented Team USA as a Paralympic snowboarder at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, winning a bronze medal.
Today, World Meningitis Day, we hope to recognize those impacted by meningitis and help raise awareness about this potentially devastating illness. And it starts with helping individuals and parents better understand this disease and how it can be prevented.
Here are some Q&As about meningitis, and the vaccines available to prevent it.
Q: What is meningitis?
A: Meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord, usually caused by an infection. There are three types of meningitis.
1) Viral meningitis is fairly common, and usually doesn’t cause serious illness.
2) Fungal meningitis is very, very rare and not contagious.
3) Bacterial meningitis the most serious type of meningitis. Complications include loss of limbs, brain damage, hearing loss, and death. To avoid such devastating complications, it needs to be treated right away.
Q: What are the symptoms of bacterial meningitis?
A: Bacterial meningitis is often accompanied by a headache, stiff neck and sudden fever, and can also result in nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to light. In infants, however, these symptoms might be absent or difficult to identify. If you think you or your child may have meningitis, seek medical help as soon as possible.
Q: Who is at risk of developing bacterial meningitis?
A: A person of any age may develop bacterial meningitis, but it is more common in infants, young children and people older than 60. Another at-risk age group is adolescents, like Amy Purdy. Because of their close contact with peers, teens and college students are at a greater risk of contracting the disease.
Q: What causes bacterial meningitis, and how do we prevent it?
A: Bacterial meningitis can be caused by several different types of bacteria. The best defense we have against bacterial meningitis is vaccination. Some of the most common causes of bacterial meningitis are these three vaccine-preventable diseases:
1. Streptococcus pneumonia can cause pneumococcal disease, and is prevented with the PCV vaccine (routinely recommended for children younger than 2 years old) or the PPSV vaccine (recommended for adults aged 65 and older)
2. Haemophilus influenzae type b can be prevented with the Hib vaccine, which is recommended for children under the age of 5 and adults with certain medical conditions
3. Neisseria meningitides can cause meningococcal disease, and is prevented with the MCV4 vaccine, recommended at ages 11 and 16
If you’re interested in this topic, please also view Protecting Our Tomorrows: Portraits of Meningococcal Disease. This portrait project is a global initiative aimed at raising awareness among parents about the threat of meningococcal disease and the importance of immunization. You can download the eBook for free on the iTunes store.
To read about others whose lives have been affected by meningitis, visit: