Nearly 12 years ago, Jamie Schanbaum was a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin when she experienced common flu-like symptoms.  

Hours later, she was deathly ill in a hospital bed with meningitis, where she remained for seven months.  

By the time she was released, Jamie had lost her lower legs, and most of her fingers. 

Seven years ago, 20-year-old Nicolis Williams was a junior at Texas A&M University at College Station when he contracted meningitis. Within hours, Nicolis died. His family was left to mourn his shocking and sudden loss.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic devastating lives around the globe, we must not forget April 24 is World Meningitis Day.

Meningococcal disease or bacterial meningitis is easily spread by direct contact, or by droplets of respiratory secretions (coughing, sneezing, kissing, and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. 

Affecting more than 2.8 million people globally each year, one in five bacterial meningitis survivors develop permanent disabilities such as brain damage, hearing and kidney function loss, and amputation of limbs. Even with fast diagnosis and treatment, up to 20 percent of bacterial meningitis patients will die.

Meningitis can attack anyone, but teenagers and college students ages 16 through 21 have the highest rates of meningococcal disease. The increase in risk is attributed to their close living arrangements. Bacterial meningitis symptoms are severe, and develop suddenly. They include altered mental state, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, chills, stiff neck, lethargy, purple areas of skin that resemble bruising, and more. If you experience these symptoms, you should go to the doctor immediately. Meningitis can kill within 24 hours.

There is a vaccine that protects against most types of meningococcal bacteria, and it’s the best way to prevent meningitis.

Health departments respond to each case of meningococcal disease, and implement control measures to decrease the spreading. One such measure is the Jamie Schanbaum Act of 2009, requiring Texas college students living in campus dorms to be vaccinated. Following the death of Nicolis Williams, the law was expanded in 2011, requiring the meningitis vaccination for any new student under 30 taking on-campus classes, including those living off-campus.

As awareness has increased, rates of meningococcal disease have been declining in the U.S. In 2018, there were about 330 total cases of meningitis reported. In Texas, there were 21 cases in both 2018 and 2019, down from 203 in 2001.

Texas has made great strides, but we can do better. The CDC recommends meningococcal vaccination for all preteens and teens at 11 to 12 years old, and a booster dose at age 16. The vaccine is safe and it is the most effective way of preventing meningococcal meningitis.

From the days when the polio virus in 1952 infected up to 60,000 children, leaving thousands paralyzed and more than 3,000 dead, to 1979 when the virus had been completely eliminated across the country due to a vaccine, to COVID-19 ravishing the country today. With over 33,000 deaths, and counting, we must continue to trust science, and the medical community.

Although the world is focused on the coronavirus, remember there are other infectious diseases that are preventable with vaccination. Give your children a chance at life by following the CDC’s meningitis vaccination recommendations. Jamie Schanbaum thrives today following her meningitis diagnosis. She’s not blind or deaf, and grateful for life.