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Meningitis warning for university students

David Coppin launches campaign to raise awareness of disease

A student who survived meningitis twice within five months at university is urging young people to look out for each other as they return to studies.

David Coppin, 23, is launching Meningitis UK/Meningitis Trust's national adolescent awareness campaign.

The campaign aims to highlight that young people are particularly susceptible to the disease, especially when they return to education establishments and winter sees cases peak dramatically.

Londoner David was studying sports management at Coventry University when he beat the dreaded disease twice and went on to graduate from the three-year course with a 2:1.

The first time, David was in a rented student home in October 2009, when he collapsed following a bout of vomiting during the night.

His mother Lorraine, who was visiting, called an ambulance and he was taken to University Hospital at Walsgrave, where staff initially suspected swine flu.

He looked so ill, Lorraine, of Enfield, called a chaplain to his bedside and placed him in "God's hands".

Luckily, a doctor spotted a barely visible pin-prick rash on David's neck and antibiotics were promptly administered.

He was diagnosed with meningococcal septicaemia, spent a week in a coma and lost a stone-and-a-half, but made a recovery and returned to studies in January.

However, the following March, David contracted the disease again, but this time his flatmates knew the symptoms and insisted he went to hospital.

Thanks to his friends' new-found knowledge, the disease was caught quickly and he was soon on the mend.

David believes if his friends had not known the signs and acted quickly his story would easily be a tragic one.

David said: "I felt very vulnerable - the ordeal has taught me to appreciate life. With meningitis, you don't have full control of your limbs and everything becomes such a struggle - I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

"When I first developed symptoms, I thought I just had a bug. I am extremely lucky to recover from the disease twice - it was against all odds and I'm grateful to everyone who helped me get well.

"It's a hard disease to diagnose - so I want everyone across the country to learn the symptoms and keep an eye on each other."

David, Lorraine and Meningitis UK/Trust, which have recently merged, say students are particularly prone to meningitis, which can kill in hours, with carriage rates peaking at age 19.

Sue Davie, chief executive of the Bristol and Stroud-based charity, said: "The Adolescent Awareness campaign and survey aims to highlight that teenagers and young people are the second most at risk group, after babies and youngsters.

"We've heard tragic cases where students have gone to sleep off a hangover and been found either dangerously ill or dead in the morning.

"Knowing the signs can save lives because the sooner it is diagnosed, the better the chances of survival and avoiding outcomes such as limb loss or brain damage."

The charity is offering free wallet-sized symptoms cards to all young people returning to studies by calling 0117 947 6320 or visit http://www.meningitisuk.org.