I have to admit it, before a few weeks ago I had never heard of Meningococcal (men-in-juh-coc-cal) disease. You probably haven’t either, but you may have heard it’s more common name, Meningitis (men-in-jai-tus). My first encounter with the disease came a few weeks back, when I made a call to a friend to chat and catch up. A member of his fraternity, whom I had met while visiting him in college at Cal State Long Beach, was in the hospital after suffering from a severe headache and struggling to refrain from passing out. His brain was swelling due to an infection and doctors were forced to remove most of his skull to try and stabilize him. Less than 48 hours later, he was dead. The cause was bacterial meningitis.
It is still unknown where he contracted the infection, but in the span of 3 days, he went from being an active, successful, healthy 20-something to being in a medically induced coma and on life support, his mother forced to make the unthinkable choice of letting him go when hope became lost. I was blown away by how seemingly random the infection happened to choose him, with no rhyme or reason. I found myself asking, “If this happened to him, could it just as easily happen to me?” When I was approached to help write a series of blogs on meningitis for an upcoming clinical trial called “Memento 014,” I knew that it couldn’t have been a coincidence that I had been affected in such personal way by the disease only weeks before. The trial is designed to test the effectiveness of a new vaccine that prevents meningococcal disease type B (MnB). While there are vaccines for other strains of the disease, there is none for MnB. In doing some research I discovered that the disease, which causes the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord to become swollen and inflamed, poses a huge risk for young people (11-25). I also found that my own lack of awareness about the seriousness of this illness and the preventative measures available were echoed in many of my peers and their parents.
Over the next few weeks I invite you to join me as we take a look at what meningitis actually is, its history, and the fight on both the medical and political fronts to raise awareness and put an end to it. I hope to be joined by fellow bloggers who have been affected through friends or family and can share their experiences as well as provide a resource for knowledge, comfort, and fellowship for anyone who is seeking information and in the process of dealing with the disease themselves or through a loved one.