MOUNT VERNON — As graduating high school seniors turn their thoughts to vacations, jobs or college, they should also be thinking about protecting their health and getting a meningitis vaccination.
Five years ago a Fredericktown family was devastated by the loss of 18-year-old Fredericktown High School graduate Caitlin Pugh. Caitlin was attending the Mansfield campus of The Ohio State University and working two jobs. She contracted bacterial meningitis and died suddenly.
Caitlin’s mother Sabrina Pugh hopes that reminding others of Caitlin’s death will help them realize they should be vaccinated to avoid the tragedy the Pugh’s went through.
“We were devastated,” Pugh said. “She was a great kid with a great future ahead of her. We continue to miss her every day but we remember her fondly and have been able to keep living. Callan [Caitlin’s sister] and I often talk about what she might have said or how she might have reacted in a certain situation – but in a positive way. We have been extremely lucky to have the continued love and support of family, friends, our church and the community. This has helped us remain strong and we are forever thankful for that support.”
Jackie Fletcher, director of nursing at the Knox County Health Department, said meningitis is an infection of the fluid of a person’s spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. There are two types of meningitis, viral, which is a milder form, and bacterial. Bacterial meningitis can be deadly, as was in the case of Caitlin. The symptoms are similar for both types.
“Meningitis can come on like the flu,” said Fletcher, “as it did in Caitlin’s case. She felt like she was coming down with a cold and just didn’t feel well. Usually the signs are headache, and joint stiffness, especially in the neck area. Some people will complain of photophobia where they don’t want to be in bright lights. Usually with bacterial meningitis, they would develop a rash.”
A meningitis vaccine has been recommended for students entering college for years. “They usually live in close quarters,” Fletcher said, “and the more confined an area you are in, especially if people are sharing eating utensils, and drinking out of the same cup, those kinds of things. You’re more likely to spread it that way. So that’s why it was always recommended or pushed for those children going off to college. Also, if your immune system is somewhat suppressed, as it is usually when kids are in college because they are burning the candle at both ends, then that makes you more susceptible to anything that’s floating around. ”
“We did know the vaccine was available,” said Pugh. “In fact I found the article that she [Caitlin] and I had read about the vaccine – it stated that a student living on campus should get the vaccine. That was the plan – when she transferred to main campus of OSU we were going to get the vaccine. They are now suggesting the vaccine at a much younger age.”
The vaccine is readily available and is now recommended for children 11 through 18 years of age. The vaccine is available at the Knox County Health Department for a $10 administration fee, if children get it before the age of 19. After age 19, Fletcher said, it costs a lot more.
To encourage others to get the vaccine, a scholarship was set up in Caitlin’s name through the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon and Knox County. Pugh said it is for a Fredericktown student attending a branch campus of The Ohio State University and who was very active in high school like Caitlin was. Pugh presents the scholarship personally.
“When presenting the scholarship,” she said, “I encourage the students to get the vaccine and to make healthy lifestyle decisions — exercise, good nutrition, plenty of sleep — throughout life.”