Meningitis strikes fear into the heart of every parent - a deadly disease which develops without warning, killing one in 10, and leaving a quarter of survivors with irreversible after-effects.
And for Sheffield mum Sarah Walsh, the nightmare became a reality when her little girl, Lily, contracted bacterial meningitis at just nine months old.
“She had a really high temperature and was screaming really painfully - it was unlike any scream I’d ever heard before,” said Sarah, aged 27, from Hackenthorpe.
“I was absolutely distraught.”
For the past seven days, campaigners have been raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of the life-threatening infection as part of the national Meningitis Awareness Week, and Sarah believes that Lily’s chances of recovery were raised considerably by her illness being spotted quickly by doctors.
The mum, who works as a teaching assistant, said: “Two doctors checked her over and both said it could be either a water infection or meningitis and advised me to take her straight to the children’s hospital.
“We were sent up to the ward so she could be observed and receive regular antibiotics. My world fell apart when I discovered she had meningitis, but the doctors stressed the importance of how fast I had acted when seeking medical advice.”
Sarah continued: “You have to be so fast in catching it. The problem is, everybody is always looking out for the rash, but Lily didn’t have a rash or spots at first.
“By the time the rash did appear, it wasn’t even easily noticeable, just two spots. It was scary.”
A year on from her ordeal, Lily has made a full recovery, but her hearing - affected by the meningitis - is still being monitored by children’s hospital medics.
“Lily is a very confident, happy and chatty toddler and I’m very happy that she survived,” Sarah said.
“Everyone needs to know about these diseases.”
Meanwhile, the tragic death of Janet and Barrie Crowther’s teenage daughter Rachael from meningitis 15 years ago has again spurred the couple on to campaign for an increased awareness of the condition.
Rachael, from Norton, contracted meningitis when she was 17, dying just 24 hours after falling ill with flu-like symptoms.
“We were devastated as she was a very fit young woman,” said Janet.
“Meningitis and septicaemia are diseases you never expect to happen, but when they strike they can be devastating not just for the person who falls sick, but for all their loved ones, family and friends.”
Meningitis is an infection of the meninges, or protective membranes, that surround the brain and spinal cord. The infection causes the meninges to become inflamed, which in some cases can damage the brain.
There are two types of the disease - bacterial meningitis, which is spread through close contact, and viral meningitis, caused by a virus that can be spread through coughing, sneezing and poor hygiene.
The bacterial variety is considered a medical emergency - if left untreated, it can cause severe brain damage and infect the blood.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent meningococcal group B disease, the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in the UK.
Chris Head, chief executive of the Meningitis Research Fund, said he feared a vaccine may not be introduced because of the cost involved.
“People are still not fully protected against all types, so being aware of the symptoms and acting fast is essential to saving lives,” he said.
Visit www.meningitis.org for more information.
Tell-tale clues of deadly infection
Although anyone of any age can get meningitis, babies and young children are often affected. Signs and symptoms to look out for in children are:
A very high fever with cold hands and feet
Feeling agitated, but not wanting to be touched
Appearing confused and unresponsive
A blotchy red rash that does not fade away when you roll a glass over it
In older children and adults, symptoms of meningitis can include:
High temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or over
Sensitivity to light
A distinctive skin rash
The NHS says meningitis should be treated as a medical emergency, and if the symptoms listed appear, an ambulance should be requested by calling 999.