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MP backs campaign to eradicate meningitis

March 6, 2009 11:00 AM

meningitis logoMP David Howarth has lent his support to a campaign to eradicate meningitis after the deadly disease killed a Cambridge mum.

Sharon Marais was struck down suddenly by the brain bug in January, prompting her family to contact the politician.

Sharon's husband John and their daughter Kirsty, 29, are backing national charity Meningitis UK and its aim to find a vaccine to eradicate all forms of the disease.

Mr Howarth has now written to health secretary Alan Johnson asking what actions his department is taking with regards to research.

He said: "Sharon's sad case proves how devastating meningitis can be and how it can kill so quickly. Many will be shocked to learn how a perfectly healthy woman could go to bed with symptoms which resembled flu and die within two days.

"This goes to prove that there is a need for greater awareness of the disease and the importance of eradicating all forms of meningitis.

"It is crucial that we carry out as much research as we can into this disease which has the power to claim the lives of seemingly healthy people in a matter of days."

Initially, it was thought Sharon had died from the extremely rare Meningitis A strain of the disease but tests have since confirmed she was struck down by Meningitis B, which accounts for 90 per cent of all cases in this country.

John and Kirsty hope to raise awareness by sharing their experiences and supporting Meningitis UK's Search 4 a Vaccine Campaign, which aims to raise £7million to fund vital research into eradicating the B strain.

John said: "We're very pleased that David has taken up our cause. Charities like Meningitis UK carry out great work to raise awareness and raise money for vaccine research, but it would be interesting to know what the Government is doing to financially support and assist the search for a vaccine.

"We've seen how hugely successful the Meningitis C vaccine has been over the past decade, which makes the need for a Meningitis B one even more apparent.

"It's such a crafty disease, disguising itself as flu or something like the norovirus, which is dangerous because people think they can just sleep it off. But meningitis can kill in under four hours, so it's important to get treatment as quickly as possible."

Sharon, a ward clerk at Addenbrooke's Hospital, developed a cold the week before she died but there was nothing else to suggest just how ill she was to become.

Feeling worse for wear, she visited her GP who said she probably had a virus and should rest, keep warm and drink plenty of water.

But when she woke up, less than 24 hours later, Sharon was sick in bed and fell into a semi-comatose state.

It was only when John noticed a red blotch on his wife's chest that meningitis crossed his mind.

Sharon's condition deteriorated rapidly once in A&E and the doctors were sadly unable to save her life as septicaemia, a form of blood poisoning caused by meningitis, spread through her body.

Their loss, coupled with the speed at which the disease struck and the fact the symptoms are so difficult to distinguish from a common cold or flu, have prompted John and Kirsty to support Meningitis UK.

Steve Dayman, the chief executive of Meningitis UK, which he founded after his son Spencer died from the disease, said: "We're really grateful for David Howarth's support, which is invaluable for raising awareness of the need for a vaccine both at government and constituent level.

"Meningitis UK has a single focus - to find a vaccine to eradicate all forms of meningitis. Every bit of help and support is so important in enabling us to continue our vital work.

"Our ultimate goal is to spare families the heartache John and Kirsty have suffered by losing a loved one to meningitis."

The charity is offering the public free symptoms information packs to help raise awareness. These include a leaflet with all the facts and frequently asked questions, plus a 'Check the Symptoms' fridge magnet and a handy wallet-sized symptoms card. Please call 0117 373 73 73 or visit www.meningitisuk.org if you'd like one.

Meningitis UK has also launched a new online quiz to improve people's knowledge, which can be taken at www.meningitisuk.org/awareness/quiz