“Sleepy” Edinburgh student diagnosed with deadly disease after mom recognized symptoms

A student told how she thought she had Covid – but it was actually a deadly meningitis.

Alice Jenkins, 19, woke up on May 18 with sore limbs and temperature, and assumed she had COVID as her roommates in halls at the University of Edinburgh had it the week before.

The students planned an explosion after exams were over and were supposed to go clubbing that night but Alice spent the whole day sleeping, and then Facetimed her mom, Sarah, 58, complaining that she felt bad.

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Alice, of Esher, Surrey, attributed muscle soreness to falling over playing netball a few days earlier, but when she awoke from a nap she dripped with sweat and had a rash.

Mother-in-law Sarah told her to do a ‘tumble test’ – pressing a glass against the eruption to see if it had disappeared.

When she didn’t, she told Alice to dial 999.

Sarah, who serves as a magistrate, was clued up on the symptoms of meningitis as the daughter of a neighbor had died of it at the age of only 14 years.

Her quick thinking meant that Alice, who is studying PPE, was able to receive treatment immediately, which meant she suffered no lasting damage – unlike many young people who may end up with hearing loss, paralysis or brain injury from the disease.

Alice said she was embarrassed to call 999 and a friend called for her.

She was taken to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh where she became so ill that she was unconscious – and says she thinks the experience was more critical for other people, as she can barely remember it.

Within 24 hours she was aware of doctors around her talking about paralysis, but both parents rushed to be with her.

On May 19, she was taken to the infectious disease unit at Western General Hospital, which she described as being from an American Horror Story.

She was discharged on May 24 and said she is experiencing a slight headache later, and will need a hearing test in a month.

Alice is now on holiday in Croatia and says she believes her mother’s quick thinking saved her life.

Alice wants to make other young people aware of the dangers of the deadly disease (Image: SWNS).
Alice wants to make other young people aware of the dangers of the deadly disease (Image: SWNS).

She and her mother, Sarah, want to make other young people aware of the dangers of the deadly disease that Alice caught four months after her vaccination expired and which is particularly affecting teens.

Alice said: “If I hadn’t had the rash, I wouldn’t have been in the hospital, I just had sore limbs and temperature.

“The week before my roommates had covid, the typical symptoms of meningitis like stiff neck and illness didn’t start until I was in hospital.

“When I went to the hospital, they gave me antibiotics, steroids and antiviruses, without knowing what it was.

“I was really scared to go to A&E, I woke up that night with a rash and Facetimed my mom said ‘phone 999’.

“I was saying ‘I don’t want to,’ but a friend did it for me.”

A friend from home, Kirstin Malcolm, 19, went to the hospital to keep Alice company and kept in touch with her parents, later bringing her a packed bag when they discovered she was going to stay inside.

Kirstin wasn’t too worried that Alice was tired after a hectic week of pubs, clubs and shopping, but was worried when she got a text saying “I’m in A&E lol”.

She was holding a cardboard sick bowl for her friend who was vomiting “black-colored bile” and seemed only to be able to communicate by blinking, before being moved to Acute Medical Unit.

Alice said: “It was probably easier for me because I didn’t know what was going on.

“I couldn’t Google it so I didn’t know how dangerous it was.”

A stinging test diagnosed meningococcal group B, against which Alice was vaccinated at the age of about 14.

She urged other young people to check if their vaccinations had expired and to book a boost if they had, as hers ended in January.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain that can be spread by kissing, sneezing and coughing – although Alice told Public Health Scotland that she had no idea where she might get it.

No one else in her halls or that she knows got sick with it, but she described her friends ’parents’ reaction as “petrified” when they found out about it.

She said: “I didn’t have a headache until I went to the hospital, or had a stiff neck, or vomited.

“When they stabbed me, they said I could be paralyzed or get sepsis, or lose my fingers or toes, or have a hearing loss or brain injury.

“They had to keep me away from people because meningitis is contagious, it was pretty lonely but I had a Percy Pig toy with me.

“Because I slept so much I was less lonely.”

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Her father Richard, 58, shortened cycling in Italy to visit her and her mother received the first train to Edinburgh from Surrey.

Alice said: “I haven’t even kissed anyone – but I’m thankful it didn’t happen during the holidays.

“I was planning to go to Marbella but that was canceled but the doctors didn’t think I would be well enough to go to Croatia either.

“It’s scary – I was planning to go to a club on Wednesday but I woke up and it didn’t feel so good, and I was in the hospital in five hours.

“We are more aware as a family because we know someone who died because of it, but we didn’t know that vaccination is expiring.

“My chances were one in ten, but I feel right now.”

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