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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 March 2008, 00:47 GMT
'Trust your parental instinct'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Edward and Sarah Evans
Edward was left profoundly deaf and visually impaired
When Sarah Evans's baby son became listless and weepy, her instincts told her to worry.

She took him to the GP and was reassured that Edward had just picked up a bug.

But Edward's condition deteriorated and days later, aged eight months, he became desperately ill. Doctors diagnosed pneumococcal meningitis.

Edward, now aged eight, from Derby, survived, but was left profoundly deaf and visually impaired.

Nagging worries

He has cerebral palsy and learning difficulties, and seizures every day.

Sarah said she will always wonder whether she could have done things differently.

Edward was crying, but it was not the usual cry he made - as a parent you notice this
Sarah Evans

"You look back and think: 'Why did I do that? Why did I not realise he was so ill?'

"It just felt like a ghastly dream that I was going to wake up from.

"You think if only I could have turned the clock back, I would do things differently."

Sarah is convinced that mother's instinct is a powerful tool.

"You know something is wrong, but you can't put your finger on it," she said.

"Edward was crying, but it was not the usual cry he made - it was a sort of moaning. As a parent you notice this."

Protecting vaccine

A vaccine to protect children against pneumococcal meningitis - the form which struck Edward - is credited with saving hundreds of lives since its introduction.

Fever, drowsy, difficult to wake
Refusing food or vomiting, listless, unresponsive
Fretful, dislike of being handled
Pale blotchy skin
Unusual high-pitched cry, moaning

However, it is estimated that one in six children remains unvaccinated, and there are other forms of meningitis - most notably the B strain - for which there is no vaccine.

Sarah said it was vital that parents, like her remained alert to the dangers of the disease.

She now distributes credit card sized cards to libraries and other public places warning of the signs and symptoms.

"It is important not to terrify people, but to inform them," she said.

"You know it is rare but you need to be prepared for it.

"Meningitis is one of these really horrible things that - until it is almost too late - looks as if it could be something else."

Meningitis C: Vaccine available from 1999 since when number of cases has dropped by 90%
Pneumococcal meningitis: There are over 90 different strains of pneumococcal bacteria, but most of the disease is caused by only seven types. Vaccine made routine in February 2006
Hib meningitis: Was a major cause of meningitis and septicaemia in children in the UK prior to the introduction of the Hib vaccine in 1992
Meningitis B: Now responsible for most cases of meningitis in the UK. No vaccine currently available

Nurse Jane Blewitt, at the Meningitis Trust, agreed vigilance was vital.

"Symptoms can appear in any order and some may not appear at all. People need to be aware of all the signs and symptoms, which in the early stages can be similar to flu.

"If someone is ill or is obviously getting worse, do not wait for a rash to appear. It may appear late or may not appear at all. Trust your instincts, if you suspect meningitis get medical help immediately."

A spokesman for the Meningitis Research Foundation said vaccination was vital.

"While it is important to be aware of the symptoms of meningitis, in order to get a rapid diagnosis and prompt treatment, the best way to protect against pneumococcal meningitis is to ensure that babies and toddlers are immunised."

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