'Wise up to meningitis as ignorance costs lives' Brachann Davies went to bed in residential halls thinking she just needed to rest, yet she was soon in isolation fighting for her life. Abbie Wightwick tells her story.
BRACHANN DAVIES was at university, living in halls of residence, when she got aches and pains which she dismissed as flu.
Little did the student from Cardiff know that deadly meningococcal meningitis bacteria were invading her body.
"I didn't think of meningitis. I went back to bed thinking I just needed to rest," she says.
Within days the trainee teacher was in isolation in Llandough Hospital fighting for her life.
Now fully recovered, Brachann is urging students and their families to be aware of the killer disease as the charity Meningitis Now warned "a perfect storm" of ignorance, risk and confusion about a lifesaving vaccine could lead to young people losing their lives.
Brachann, who was studying for a degree in teaching at the former University of Wales, Newport, was living in halls of residence in Caerleon when she fell ill.
As the flu-like aches worsened she developed an "excruciating headache", sensitivity to light and what she thought was a heat rash. All are among the signs of meningitis. As they didn't appear all at once Brachann didn't link them as signs of the killer illness.
"I went for a run on the Tuesday, and that night I started to ache and I couldn't get warm for at least an hour and a half, even being under my quilt.
"I just thought the reason for feeling achy was from my run as I hadn't exercised in a while.
"Next morning when I woke up I still ached. My hands were also aching but I thought nothing of it, but when I got up I felt a bit sick and then fainted twice. I went back to bed thinking I just needed to rest."
The next day Brachann felt well enough to go to the shop for water but went to bed early, hoping the persistent headache would be gone by the morning.
"It felt like my whole brain and skull was hurting and thumping. I had trouble sleeping. In the middle of the night I woke up feeling sick, and it was only when I put the light on to be sick that I realised the light hurt my eyes. I had to use a dim lamp, but it didn't stop my head thumping.
"I woke up Thursday morning with the thumping headache still there. I had a stiff neck and I felt very disorientated. I tried to lie back in bed, but found it hard to sleep due to my headache. I had taken paracetamol but they didn't work."
By now Brachann had contacted her parents, Alison and Steve, who came to pick her up that evening. On the Friday morning they took her to the GP, who sent her straight to Llandough Hospital.
"I went to hospital and had a head scan, chest scans and blood tests, which came back showing high levels of infection."
When they told Brachann she needed a lumbar puncture in her spine she felt too ill to care.
"The pain didn't even register. Lots of people said since that I could have died but I felt so ill that didn't register at the time either. I wasn't really aware what was happening."
Put in isolation on strong antibiotics, Brachann was in hospital for a week and could only be visited by her parents if they put on protective gowns and masks. They and her brother, Harrison, and sister, Holly, all had to be treated with antibiotics as a precaution, in case the bacterial infection had spread to them.
Brachann, now 28 and teaching life skills with charity Barnardo's, says she'll never forget the experience six years ago. She urged young people and their parents to be aware of meningitis, especially with a new term starting.
"Make sure you are aware of the symptoms and if you feel ill don't brush it off. I was lucky. It could have been fatal."
The charity Meningitis Now, which helped Brachann after her recovery, says students are more likely to get meningitis. It urged parents, carers and young people to ensure they have the vaccinations and be aware of symptoms.
The charity says the school vaccination programme is achieving an estimated 80% uptake of the life-saving MenACWY jab, which protects against four different strains of the meningococcal bacteria that cause meningitis and blood poisoning (septicaemia): A, C, W and Y. But an estimated 280,000 people aged 16-24 in Wales are likely to have missed the vaccine since it was introduced in 2015.
A spokesman warned students are more at risk from meningitis: "It is estimated that teenagers are the highest carriers of the bacteria that cause meningitis - one in four versus one in 10 for the general population.
"The risk of spreading the bacteria increases as young people congregate and live in close quarters with a large group of people for the first time.
"There is a link with so-called fresher's flu - a commonly known issue which occurs when students meet and live together for the first time."
The charity says the vaccine is vital, but as it does not protect against all strains people should also be aware of the signs and symptoms.
First-year students up to the age of 25 can obtain a free vaccination for Men ACWY from their GP, although many will already have received this.
The vaccine does not protect against all strains of meningitis and they are unlikely to have been vaccinated against Men B, leaving them at risk from this strain of the disease.
For more information on charity Meningitis Now visit www.meningitisnow.org Brachann in Llandough Hospital Brachann Davies