Act Now to Stop Meningitis

Amy Purdy almost lost her life to meningitis. Now, she’s urging teens to get vaccinated against the serious bacterial infection.


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Getting ready to buy books, electronics, and other paraphernalia for your high school or college student, or know someone who is? Before things get too hectic, make sure returning students visit a healthcare provider and receive recommended vaccines to safeguard arguably their most precious resource—health.

Although anyone can get meningitis, preteens and teens are at higher risk of its most dangerous form than other age groups—and more likely to die from it, too.

Meningitis caused by meninogococcal bacteria can take the life of an otherwise healthy young person in a single day. Fortunately, a simple shot is available to protect against the serious infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a vaccine to prevent four common types of bacterial meningitis for youngsters 11 to 18 years of age and college freshmen living in dormitories, as well as individuals with weakened immune systems, military recruits, and some overseas travelers.

Meningitis occurs when the fluid-filled membranes (meninges, men-IN-geez) that cover the brain and spinal cord become infected and swollen. Viral meningitis usually resolves in two weeks with little treatment. However, bacterial meningitis is extremely serious and requires immediate treatment at a hospital with antibiotics and medicines to prevent amputation of arms, legs, fingers, and toes; brain damage; hearing loss; or kidney damage.

Symptoms of the two types are similar, which is why anyone with a high fever, headache, and stiff neck should seek medical help right away. Other warning signs of the disease are nausea, sensitivity to light, confusion, and sleepiness.

“I lost both of my legs, my kidney, my spleen, half my hearing, and almost my life to meningitis. And I’m one of the lucky ones,” recalls Amy Purdy, who contracted meningococcal disease when she was 19.

Amy Purdy
Amy Purdy
Credit: Paul Smith Photography, courtesy of the Voices of Meningitis campaign

Safe and effective vaccines are available for people ages 2 through 55 who want to protect themselves from meningitis. Less than half of children age 11 to 18 have been immunized, however, placing millions at risk for the rare but potentially devastating disease.

Remarkably, Purdy not only survived but later won medals in the USA Snowboard Association’s snowboarding competition and competed in the ESPN Extremity Games. Today, she is a motivational speaker and also works as a model, actress, and make-up artist.

“If I knew about meningococcal disease, including meningitis, and that a vaccine existed to help prevent it, I would have made it a priority to get vaccinated,” she says. “I know firsthand how serious it can be, and I want to help raise awareness about meningococcal meningitis and encourage preteens and teens to get vaccinated.”

Click here for details on the CDC’s meningitis vaccine recommendations.

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