Letter: California Families and College Systems Should Take Steps to Protect Against Threat of Meningitis

Dear Editor
My vibrant and talented daughter MaryJo died of meningitis eight days before her 16th birthday. It is the nightmare that every parent fears, but few expect that when it begins it can look just like the flu or a common cold.

Early one morning, MaryJo did not feel well and complained of a sore throat. She felt a little warm, but displayed no other symptoms. When I left for work, I told MaryJo that I would call to check up on her and that she should call me if she began to feel worse. She called that afternoon and told me that she had brown spots on her face. I rushed home and found her still awake, alert and talking, but with a blotchy purple rash. I called 911 and she was rushed to the hospital.

Despite heroic efforts by the hospital staff to save her, MaryJo was pronounced dead just thirteen hours after her first symptoms.

I am a nurse – a clinician – and I was still unable to tell how sick my daughter was until it was too late.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The infection can be caused by either viruses or bacteria. Viral meningitis is more common, but has fewer serious or debilitating potential health consequences, and is treated only symptomatically. Some with viral meningitis recover without medical treatment at all.

Bacterial meningitis, by contrast, is a potentially fatal illness that can also cause brain damage, hearing loss or loss of limbs. Meningitis is spread person-to-person through respiratory or throat secretions, such as those transmitted via coughs, kissing, or living in close quarters.

Despite initial symptoms that can look like the flu, meningitis can be fatal within hours, as it was for MaryJo. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, even when promptly treated, bacterial meningitis will be fatal in 10 to 15 percent of cases, with as many as 19 percent of survivors suffering permanent complications. On average, 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis are reported each year and approximately five hundred of those cases result in death. Fortunately, there are safe and effective vaccines available to help prevent every strain of bacterial meningitis.

Anyone who has not yet been vaccinated against meningitis is at risk for infection, the disease spreads quickly among those living in close quarters such as college dormitories, and adolescents and young adults between the ages of 16 and 21 are among the likeliest to contract the disease. Unfortunately, Californians understand all too well the grave threat of meningitis, with instances in recent years on college campuses in Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and San Diego.

The University of California school system recently expanded its list of required vaccinations to include meningitis and others. The Cal State system and California’s community colleges should consider following suit. For their part, California families and parents of high school and college-age students should have a conversation with their health care provider about the most appropriate vaccine schedules and ask prospective colleges about their meningitis plans. The best way to stop the spread of meningitis is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

No parent should have to live the nightmare that I experienced with MaryJo. Fortunately, with the availability of vaccines to protect against all strains of meningococcal, fewer parents will. Everyone needs to be vaccinated so they can be protected.

Sincerely, Rose Aglubat-Kwett, a Sacramento resident and the founder of Meningitis Awareness Key to Prevention, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization dedicated to raising awareness about meningitis. She founded the organization in honor of her daughter MaryJo.

3 Responses to Letter: California Families and College Systems Should Take Steps to Protect Against Threat of Meningitis

  1. Sal Marcellana says:

    I’m quite pleased that friend Rose Aglubat-Kwett has continued with her advocacy to prevent this disease.

    I hope parents, especially, take her advice to heart, no ifs or buts.

  2. Deborah Rodriguez says:

    Dear Rosie, you are saving hundreds of young lives through your tireless dedication and work with MAK in honor of Mary Jo. You are one exceptional human being.

  3. Deborah Rodriguez says:

    God bless you, dear Rosie. You are saving hundreds of kids by your tireless dedication and work through MAK in honor of Mary Jo.

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