A life-saving campaign to warn students of the signs of a disease that can kill within hours was launched today.
Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) revealed one in 10 young people have not heard of the deadly illness, that can also leave survivors with brain damage, deafness and multiple amputations.
The charity wants teens, who are the second highest at-risk group for contracting meningitis, to spot the vital symptoms of the disease which are similar to the flu or a hangover.
Broadcaster Claire Byrne, who was given the last rites when she was struck with the disease in 1990, has backed the campaign.
“For me to escape with no damage to my hearing, my sights, no limb loss, no brain damage, it’s just so fortunate because I was seriously ill,” she said. “I can’t believe how lucky I was.
“Sometimes you have that survivor guilt where you think, how on earth did I come through unscathed from this?”
Young adults are twice as likely to carry the bacteria that cause meningitis - which is the inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord – and septicaemia, the blood poisoning form of the disease.
Up to 300 cases of the conditions are recorded each year, with up to 10% of patients dying. A further 20% of survivors are left with after-effects including brain damage and deafness.
The MRF unveiled a new free video message service for mobile phone users to boost awareness of meningitis and its symptoms by free texting TIME to 50308.
Posters have also been created for colleges nationwide to make students learn the symptoms, which include fever, vomiting, dislike of bright lights and neck stiffness and a rash.
One to mark National Meningitis Awareness Week reads: “8am: Hungover?, 10am: Feeling worse, 4pm: Hospital, 10pm: Died from meningitis”.
Clodagh Hegarty, MRF medical information officer, said some of the signs of meningitis are also very similar to somebody being drunk or having taking drugs.
“Their friends might think they are just a bit jarred, but they could be quite ill. We are trying to get the message across that if you are worried about a friend, call our helpline.”
Ms Byrne revealed she had a severe headache in school, which almost turned fatal.
“I remember my doctor asking me to stand up and I collapsed and the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance,” said the new RTE presenter.
“I was taken to Portlaoise General Hospital at the time and treated overnight and I was in and out of consciousness.
“I had the last rites at one stage which I remember. It’s a real strange memory to have, I was staring up at this priest with my parents to my left, the oils and the prayers.”
“I could see a photograph of my entire family on the wall - it was a photograph that doesn’t exist - and to the right of that I saw a crucifix.
“I don’t know if that was the drugs or the sickness, but I was in a really bad state at that time. It was touch and go.”