Woman’s ‘Covid’ symptoms turned out to be meningitis – signs of the illness

Student Alice Jenkins thought she had Covid but it was actually meningitis. (SWNS)
Student Alice Jenkins thought she had Covid but it was actually meningitis. (SWNS)

A woman who suspected she had Covid-19 turned out to be suffering from deadly meningitis.

Alice Jenkins, 19, from Esher, Surrey woke up on May 18 with aching limbs and a temperature, and assumed she had coronavirus as her flatmates in halls at the University of Edinburgh had it the previous week.

The students were supposed to be going clubbing that night to celebrate the end of their exams, but Jenkins spent all day sleeping.

Having woken up from a nap, dripping in sweat and with a rash, Jenkins decided to FaceTime her mum, Sarah, 58, to say she was feeling poorly.

The mum-of-two, who serves as a magistrate, told her daughter to do a 'tumbler test' – pressing a glass against the rash to see if it disappeared.

When it didn't, she immediately told Jenkins to dial 999.

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Jenkins' meningitis rash, which didn't disappear when a glass was rolled over it. (SWNS)
Jenkins' meningitis rash, which didn't disappear when a glass was rolled over it. (SWNS)

Jenkins' mother was clued up on the symptoms of meningitis as a neighbour's daughter had tragically died of the illness aged only 14 years old.

Having felt embarrassed to call 999, Jenkins asked a friend to call for her and was taken to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh where she became so ill she fell unconscious.

While her parents travelled to the hospital to be with her, a friend from home, Kirstin Malcolm, 19, went to keep Alice company, holding a cardboard sick bowl for Jenkins who was vomiting what she describes as "black-coloured bile".

"When I got into hospital they put me on antibiotics, steroids and antivirals, without knowing what it was," Jenkins explains.

"It was probably easier for me because I didn't know what was going on."

Jenkins was rushed to hospital. (SWNS)
Jenkins was rushed to hospital. (SWNS)

A lumber puncture test diagnosed meningococcal group B and within 24 hours Jenkins was taken to the infectious disease unit at the Western General Hospital.

"When they did a lumber puncture they said I could be paralysed or get septicemia, or lose my fingers or toes, or get hearing loss, or brain damage," Jenkins explains.

"They had to keep me away from people because meningitis is contagious, it was pretty lonely.

"Thankfully I slept so much, which helped me cope with the loneliness."

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Jenkins was eventually discharged on May 24 and credits her mum with helping to save her life by ensuring she got the medical treatment she needed.

While she will need a hearing test in a month, it has meant she has suffered no lasting damage, aside from a slight headache, unlike many young people who can end up with hearing loss, paralysis or brain damage from the life-threatening illness.

Read more: Mum-of-two loses both legs after mistaking symptoms of deadly infection for Covid

Pictured with her mum Sarah, who she credits with saving her life. (SWNS)
Pictured with her mum Sarah, who she credits with saving her life. (SWNS)

Now the family want to make other young people aware of the risks of meningitis.

"If I hadn't had the rash I wouldn't have gone into hospital, all I had was aching limbs and a temperature and the week before my flatmates had COVID," Jenkins explains.

"The typical symptoms of meningitis like a stiff neck and being sick didn't start until I was in hospital."

While Jenkins had been vaccinated against meningitis aged about 14, she found out the vaccination ran out in January this year so is now urging others to check when their expiry dates and book a booster if needed.

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Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain which can be spread by kissing, sneezing and coughing –although Jenkins told Public Health Scotland she had no idea where she could have got it from.

"It is scary – I was planning to go clubbing on the Wednesday but I woke up and didn't feel that well, and within five hours I was in hospital," she explains.

"We are more aware as a family because we know someone who died from it, but we didn't know vaccinations can expire.

"My chances were one in ten, but I feel completely myself now."

Jenkins is studying PPE at university. (SWNS)
Jenkins is studying PPE at university. (SWNS)

Symptoms of meningitis

The NHS says meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meninges).

While it can affect anyone, the infection is most common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults.

If not treated quickly, meningitis can be very serious and can cause life-threatening blood poisoning called septicaemia, which can result in permanent damage to the brain or nerves.

Symptoms of meningitis can develop suddenly and may include: a high temperature (fever), being sick, a headache, a stiff neck, a dislike of bright lights, drowsiness or unresponsiveness, a rash which does not fade when a glass is rolled over it.

The NHS points out that sufferers may not always get all the symptoms and they can appear in any order.

Additional reporting SWNS.