Olympic star warns of meningitis dangers in winter

Newly appointed Patron of Meningitis Research Foundation and gold medal Paralympics sprinter Jonnie Peacock who is to be awarded a MBE in the Queen’s New Years Honours List is warning the public to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia during the winter months.

The risk of meningitis and septicaemia heightens around Christmas and New Year when people’s immune systems are weakened from fighting common illnesses like colds and flu, making them more vulnerable to bacterial meningitis, the most deadly kind.

Jonnie, who agreed to become an official patron for the charity just before Christmas, contracted meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia at the age of five in October 1998 and as a result lost his right leg below the knee. He said: “It’s great to be working with Meningitis Research Foundation to raise awareness of the disease and find ways to prevent it. I hope I can help make more people aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis so those who get it can be given medical attention quickly and have a better chance of survival. Having suffered with it myself, I know first-hand how awful it can be and the after effects on those around you, hopefully my involvement will help make a difference”.

Jonnie’s mum Linda Roberts, seen by millions hugging him after he won gold at the Paralympics has also been working with Meningitis Research Foundation. She recently spoke to MP’s and members of the House of Lords at a reception in Westminster and had everyone in tears as she spoke with pride and raw emotion about her family’s journey from shell-shock at his amputation to pride and delight as he secured a Gold medal at the Paralympics.

Bacterial meningitis and septicaemia affects around 3,400 people across the UK each year. They are easily mistaken for milder illnesses, can kill within 24 hours and may cause serious, life-long disabilities. As many as one in ten of those affected will die and a third of survivors will be left with after-effects, some as serious as brain damage, amputations, blindness and hearing loss. Babies in the first year of life are most vulnerable. More UK children under the age of five die from meningitis than any other infectious disease.

Many parents are not aware that their children are not protected against all strains. There is currently no vaccine available in the UK and Ireland against meningococcal B disease (MenB) although one is waiting for a license from the European Medicines Agency. MenB is responsible for the majority of cases, around five a day in the UK.

Chris Head, CEO of Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) said: “Jonnie is a role model to all young children and adults who have been left with serious after effects as a result of meningitis and septicaemia. He and his mum Linda have been incredibly supportive and we are thrilled they have agreed to take on more official roles. This is one of the peak periods for meningitis and septicaemia and I hope Jonnie’s support will help us to spread awareness of the symptoms more widely.”