A FORMER Fowey College student says he feels lucky to be alive after surviving an attack by the potentially fatal meningitis virus.
Ben Turner, from Tywardreath, was placed on life support and spent weeks in hospital after contracting meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia in January.
Speaking to the Cornish Guardian during Meningitis Awareness Week, he said more people needed to be aware of the symptoms.
"At the start I just thought it was a normal cold but it just seemed to get worse and worse," said Ben, 16.
"Everyone else seemed to think it was the flu but as I got worse I knew it was something more serious."
After Ben had felt rundown for a few days his mother Kate was advised to take him to Bodmin Hospital, where he was given penicillin and sent home to rest – but that evening his pulse began racing and he struggled to breathe.
"His pulse was very high and his temperature was 40C," Mrs Turner said.
"His breathing went really funny, as though he was running a sprint. That's when I called NHS Direct, and they sent someone round."
Ben, a former pupil of Fowey School and Fowey Community College, was rushed to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro and hours later was put into an induced coma.
"We went to A&E but nobody had said what it was," Mrs Turner said.
"We expected to be back home the next day. They started working on him really quickly.
"He was sent up to intensive care and put on life support for a few days.
"They said he had a 50-50 chance. They were expecting him to be in hospital for months. If we'd waited for the [meningitis] rash [to develop] it would have been too late."
Ben remained in intensive care for a week before being transferred to another ward.
"When he came off life support, that's when it hit me," Mrs Turner said. "I'd read a lot of stuff and started thinking, 'What if he's brain-damaged? What if he's not Ben any more?' but a few minutes after he came round he made some sarcastic comment and I knew he was absolutely fine."
After three weeks in hospital Ben came home and has made a full recovery, but he and his mother are urging people to learn the symptoms of meningitis.
"I'd urge everyone to familiarise themselves with the symptoms of septicaemia too," Mrs Turner said. "He had the HIB vaccination, which covers some strains of meningitis, but I didn't realise how many types there were. You never expect anything like this to happen."
Chris Head, chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said a new vaccine that could save lives might not be made available because of costs.
"A new vaccine for meningococcal B infection is currently under consideration and may not be introduced because of costs," he said. "We're extremely disappointed by this and campaigning hard for a change of heart. Vaccines have almost eliminated many types of meningitis, but meningitis and septicaemia still present a very real threat to our children. People are still not fully protected against all types, so being aware of the symptoms and acting fast is essential to saving lives."
For more information, see www. meningitis.org