Hornchurch student left partially deaf by meningitis urges others to know symptoms

Jeff, at London Zoo, where he volunteers, holding a replica Bengal tiger skull

Jeff, at London Zoo, where he volunteers, holding a replica Bengal tiger skull - Credit: Archant

A young Hornchurch man left partially deaf after contracting a rare and aggressive form of meningitis is urging others to learn the symptoms of the deadly brain bug this Meningitis Awareness Week.

The disease and associated septicaemia affect around ten people in the UK and Ireland every day, the Meningitis Research Foundation estimates.

It can strike without warning, killing one in ten, and leaving a quarter of survivors with life-altering after-effects, ranging from deafness and brain damage, to loss of limbs.

Jeff Pullinger contracted meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in March 2004, aged 24, during his first year of studying Zoology at Royal Holloway University of London, in Egham, Surrey.

“I had gone home and began to feel very strange but thought I food poisoning,” he said. “Two days later I was lying on the sofa almost dead but luckily my GP recognised the symptoms over the phone and told my mum to call an ambulance for suspected meningitis. He saved my life as I had contracted the rare W135 strain.”

The disease ravaged Jeff’s health: he now wears a hearing aid; has balance problems, a constant headache, and tinnitus.

“On the positive side I am lucky to be alive,” he said, “as the doctors thought I would die or at least have severe brain damage, blindness and amputations.”

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Jeff, of Wayside Avenue, returned to university a year-and-a-half later to finish his degree while still recovering.

Children under five and students are most at risk, but the diseases can strike at any age and not all forms are currently covered by vaccines.

Chris Head, chief executive of Meningitis Research Foundation added: “Being aware of the symptoms and acting fast is essential to saving lives.”

To find out more about the symptoms visit the MRF website: www.meningitis.org or download the free iPhone App from: www.bit.ly/MRFapp.

The awareness week ends on Sunday.