Pupil’s mother warns parents to lookout for meningitis symptoms

VERY ILL: Karen-Lee Steenkamp in happier times. Picture: LORNA WHITFORD
VERY ILL: Karen-Lee Steenkamp in happier times. Picture: LORNA WHITFORD

WHEN a Port Elizabeth teenager complained of a headache and stayed home from school last Friday, her mother thought it was because of the bad weather.

By Sunday, the lively Karen- Lee Steenkamp, 16, of Lovemore Park, had fallen into a coma while being rushed to St George’s Hospital where she was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis.

Karen-Lee’s mother, Amanda Jacobs, said yesterday she wanted to tell their story to alert other families about the symptoms

“This disease gives you no warning. It just comes and takes your child. Karen-Lee is very, very ill. Someone out there gave this to my child,” Jacobs said.

“I also want to identify my child as I need people to pray for her.”

Jacobs told how Karen-Lee, a DF Malherbe High School Grade 10 pupil, stayed home because she had a headache.

“I thought it was because it was raining [that she wanted to stay home]. She started vomiting on Saturday and by late Saturday evening her fever spiked. By Sunday morning she was delirious and very disorientated.”

Karen-Lee fell into a coma while being taken to hospital.

“I must say that Dr Jonray Leeching at the casualty unit was very helpful and immediately took control of the situation. We didn’t know what was wrong with her, but we received the results very fast,” Jacobs said.

“There were always three nurses around my child and none of them would let go until we knew exactly what was wrong with her.”

Karen-Lee was transferred to the care of a specialist physician and pulmonologist Dr Dave Stickells and admitted to the ICU’s isolation rooms. “She is not a sickly child. She is a healthy, sporty teenager. She plays hockey. She loves to dance,” Jacobs said. “I don’t think she has even had a cold in her life. She is a lovely, popular child, always making jokes.”

Jacobs informed the school so they could take measures to prevent the contagious meningitis from spreading. She is only allowed to visit Karen-Lee – who is not on medical aid – for short periods and must wear a mask, gloves and plastic apron at her daughter’s bedside.

St George’s infection prevention specialist Samantha Valentine said Karen-Lee was isolated from the start.

“As we are required by law, the Department of Health and her school were notified. Nurses from the Department of Health then went out to treat everybody who could have been in contact with the patient with antibiotics.”

Valentine said the incubation period for meningococcal meningitis was one to three days.

She said the symptoms were headaches, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck.

“I want to stress that any person with these symptoms must go to the nearest clinic or doctor to get checked out,” she said.

  • Meningococcal meningitis is spread by bodily fluids, such as saliva, and people who are in close contact with an infected person.

 

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