Suffolk woman dies of meningitis

PUBLISHED: 12:00 07 November 2001 | UPDATED: 15:19 03 March 2010

A SUFFOLK family who saw a loving wife and mother die after contracting a rare strain of meningitis today spoke of their heartbreak.

Rita Austin, 54, of Chaplin Road, East Bergholt died just hours after she was admitted to Ipswich Hospital after complaining of flu like symptoms.

A SUFFOLK family who saw a loving wife and mother die after contracting a rare strain of meningitis today spoke of their heartbreak.

Rita Austin, 54, of Chaplin Road, East Bergholt died just hours after she was admitted to Ipswich Hospital after complaining of flu like symptoms.

The mum-of-three had meningococcal septicaemia, the blood poisoning form of bacterial meningitis, which is relatively uncommon in the UK with around 3,000 cases a year.

Today with a grief barely beyond words husband Mervyn and his children Faye, 30, Claire, 22, and Graham, 27, spoke about the tragedy in a bid to throw the spotlight on the devastating disease.

The family also paid their own moving tribute to a woman who they said was "always there for people".

Speaking through Julia Warren of the Meningitis Research Foundation Graham said of his mother: "She was extremely well liked.

"She was a much loved wife and mother whose main interests were her children, flowers, gardening and caring for others. She was always there for people and will be very much missed by those who knew her."

And despite their grief the family is anxious that the message about meningitis is heard.

"We usually see this strain of meningitis in babies and young children under five and teenagers aged 15 to 19," explained Ms Warren.

"But having said that anyone of any age can contract the disease as this awful and tragic case goes to show. Everyone needs to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease."

According to Ms Warren, who has been in close contact with the family, Mrs Austin went to see her doctor on Friday after complaining of flu-like symptoms including pains in her limbs, stiffness and aching. Following the recommendations of the doctor, her husband drove her to Ipswich Hospital where she died early Saturday evening.

"From the first symptoms being apparent this disease progresses extremely quickly. Often it is impossible to save a life and one in ten people who contract it will die," added Ms warren.

"A proportion do recover but they often suffer terrible affects; brain damage, deafness, amputations. Meningococcal septicaemia is a devastating disease."

Jan Rowsell of Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust confirmed that a female patient had died during the weekend with a meningitis-related illness.

Bacterial meningitis is contagious and can be passed on to somebody who is susceptible. Mrs Rowsell said that staff at the hospital had been working closely with the woman's family and advised them of what steps should be taken.


* Meningitis is usually bacterial or viral. Whilst viral meningitis can be very nasty it is almost never life-threatening and most people will soon make a full recovery. Bacterial meningitis is more serious and most cases are caused by meningococcal bacteria. These bacteria also cause septicaemia, the blood poisoning and far more life-threatening form of the disease.

* Meningococcal bacteria are common - about 10 per cent of the population carry them in the back of the nose or throat, although carriage is less common in young children than in adults. The bacteria are passed on by prolonged or intimate contact. They are very fragile and do not survive outside the human body, so they are not easily transmitted. They cannot be caught from the air, from clothes or from handling toys, cutlery or furniture.

* While the introduction of a new vaccine in November 1999 to protect against Group C meningococcal disease has saved lives, there are still many other forms of the disease that are not vaccine preventable. In the absence of effective vaccines against all forms meningitis and septicaemia, knowing the signs and symptoms of these diseases remains crucial.

* The septicaemia form of the illness often starts with non-specific flu like symptoms.

Look out for a rash, fever or vomiting, cold hands and feet, rapid breathing, joint or muscle pain, abdominal pain (sometimes diarrhoea) and impaired consciousness or drowsiness.

* The signs of meningitis are: severe headache, stiff neck*, dislike of bright lights*, fever or vomiting, drowsiness or impaired consciousness, a rash.

(* often not present in young children)

* Babies may also suffer from tense or bulging fontanelle (soft spot); blotchy skin, getting paler or turning blue; refusing to feed; be irritable when picked up, with a high pitched or moaning cry; a stiff body with jerky movements or else floppy and lifeless.

* Symptoms can appear in any order, not everyone gets all the symptoms and septicaemia can occur without meningitis.

* The Tumbler Test. If a glass tumbler is pressed firmly against a septicaemic rash, the rash will not fade. It will remain visible through the glass. If this happens seek medical advice.

* Not everyone gets a rash, so also look out for rapid deterioration. Someone with meningitis and septicaemia will become extremely ill very quickly.

* Meningitis Research Foundation has a Freefone 24 hour helpline - 080 8800 3344 - which is operated by trained staff and nurses 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Foundation has a wide range of literature available to callers to the helpline which is freely available.


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