A student shared how she thought she had Covid – but it was actually deadly meningitis.
Alice Jenkins, 19, woke up on May 18 with aching limbs and a fever, assuming she had Covid, as her housemates had in the halls of Edinburgh University for the past week.
The students planned to blowout after the exams were completed and were due to go out to clubs that night, but Alice spent the day sleeping and eventually Facetimed her mum Sarah, 58, that she was feeling down.
Alice, from Esher, Surrey, attributed muscle pain to falling down playing netball a few days earlier, but when she woke up after a nap she was sweating and had a rash.
Mum-of-two Sarah told her to do a “tumbler test” – press a glass against the rash to see if it goes away.
When it didn’t, she told Alice to dial 999.
Sarah, who serves as a judge, became aware of the symptoms of meningitis after a neighbor’s daughter died of it when she was just 14.
Mom’s quick thinking saved her life
Her quick learner meant Alice, who is studying PSA, was able to receive immediate medical attention, meaning she sustained no permanent damage – unlike many young people who can end up with hearing loss, paralysis or brain damage from the disease.
Alice said she was embarrassed to call 999 and a friend called for her.
She was taken to Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, where she became so ill she passed out – and says she thinks the experience was more harrowing for other people as she can barely remember it.
Within 24 hours, she noticed medics talking about paralysis around her, but both parents rushed to be with her.
On May 19, she was taken to Western General Hospital’s Infectious Diseases Unit, which described her as something out of American Horror Story.
She was released on May 24 and said she had a mild headache afterwards and will need a hearing test in a month.
Alice is now on holiday in Croatia and says she believes her mother’s quick thinking saved her life.
She and her mother, Sarah, want to make other young people aware of the risks of the deadly disease that Alice contracted four months after her vaccination expired, and which affects young people in particular.
Alice said: “If I hadn’t had the rash I wouldn’t have gone to the hospital, all I had was body aches and a fever.
“In the week before my roommates contracted Covid, the typical meningitis symptoms, such as stiff neck and nausea, first appeared in the hospital.
“When I got to the hospital they put me on antibiotics, steroids and antivirals without even knowing what it was.
“I was really scared to go to A&E, I woke up that night with a rash and facetimed my mother saying ‘phone 999’.
“I said ‘I don’t want to,’ but a friend did it for me.”
A friend from home, Kirstin Malcolm, 19, went to the hospital to keep Alice company and kept in touch with her parents. She later brought her a packed bag when they found out she was staying home.
Kirstin wasn’t too concerned about Alice being tired after a hectic week of pubs, clubs and shopping, but was alarmed when she received a text message saying “I’m in the ER lol”.
Youngsters urged to check when vaccinations expire
She held a cardboard bowl for her friend, who was vomiting “black-colored bile” and apparently could only communicate by blinking, before being transferred to an acute medical unit.
Alice said: “It was probably easier for me because I didn’t know what was going on.
“I couldn’t google it, so I didn’t know how dangerous it was.”
A spinal puncture test diagnosed group B meningococci, against which Alice had been vaccinated when she was about 14 years old.
She urged other young people to check if their vaccinations have expired and book a booster if they do, as theirs expired in January.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain that can be spread through kissing, sneezing and coughing – although Alice Public Health Scotland said she has no idea where she might have gotten it from.
No one else in their halls or in their circle of acquaintances contracted it, but the reaction of their friends’ parents described them as “petrified” when they found out.
She said: “I didn’t have a headache until I got to the hospital, or a stiff neck, or throw up.
“When they did a wood puncture they said I could be paralyzed or get blood poisoning or lose fingers or toes or have hearing loss or brain damage.
“They had to keep me away from people because meningitis is contagious, it was pretty lonely but I had a Percy Pig toy with me.
“Because I slept so much, I was less lonely.”
“I was planning on going to clubs… within 5 hours I was in the hospital”
Her father Richard, 58, broke off a cycling holiday in Italy to visit her and her mother caught the first train from Surrey to Edinburgh.
Alice said: “I haven’t even kissed anyone – but I’m grateful it didn’t happen on holiday.
“I was supposed to go to Marbella but that was canceled but the doctors thought I wouldn’t be well enough to go to Croatia either.
“It’s scary – I was planning on going to clubs on Wednesday but I woke up not feeling too well and within five hours I was in the hospital.
“We’re more aware as a family because we know someone who died from it, but we didn’t know the vaccination was expiring.
“My chances were one in ten, but I feel completely myself now.”