University of Edinburgh student mistook deadly disease for Covid
Alice Jenkins thought she caught Covid from her college roommates
When Alice Jenkins woke up with aching limbs and a fever on May 18, she assumed she had caught Covid from her roommates. The University of Edinburgh student, who was supposed to be clubbing that night, instead spent the day in bed – eventually FaceTiming her mum, Sarah, to complain about feeling unwell.
The 19-year-old, from Esher, Surrey, attributed muscle pain to a fall while playing netball a few days earlier, but when she awoke from a nap she was dripping with sweat and had a skin rash.
Mum-of-two Sarah told her to do a ‘tumbler test’ – pressing a glass against the rash to see if it went away. When not, she tells Alice to dial 999.
Sarah, 58, who is a magistrate, was told of the symptoms of meningitis because a neighbour’s daughter died aged just 14.
Her quick-wittedness allowed Alice, who is studying PPE, to get medical treatment straight away, meaning she suffered no lasting damage – unlike many young people who can end up with hearing loss , paralysis or brain damage due to disease.
Alice said she was embarrassed to call 999 and a friend phoned her.
Alice in the hospital
She was taken to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where she fell so ill she was unconscious – and says she thinks the experience was more harrowing for others as she can barely cope memory.
On May 19, she was taken to the infectious disease unit at Western General Hospital.
She was released on May 24 and said she had experienced a mild headache afterwards and would need a hearing test in a month.
Alice is now on vacation in Croatia and says she believes her mother’s quick thinking saved her life.
When Alice arrived at the hospital she was put on antibiotics, steroids and antivirals
She and her mum, Sarah, want to educate other young people about the risks of the deadly disease, which Alice caught four months after her vaccination expired and which particularly affects teenagers.
Alice said: ‘If I hadn’t had the rash I wouldn’t have gone to hospital, all I had were sore limbs and a temperature.
“The week before my housemates got covid, typical meningitis symptoms like a stiff neck and vomiting didn’t start until I was hospitalized.
“When I got to the hospital, they put me on antibiotics, steroids and antivirals.
“I was really scared to go to A&E, I woke up that night with a rash and FaceTimed my mom saying ‘phone 999’.
“I said ‘I don’t want to’, but a friend did it for me.”
Alice was taken to the infectious disease unit at Western General Hospital
A friend from home, Kirstin Malcolm, 19, went to the hospital to keep Alice company and kept in touch with her parents, later bringing her a packed bag when they found out she would be staying.
Kirstin wasn’t too worried that Alice was tired after a hectic week of pubs, clubs and shopping, but she was alarmed when she received a text saying ‘I’m in A&E lol’.
She was holding a cardboard sick bowl for her friend who was vomiting ‘black colored bile’ and appeared to only be able to communicate by blinking, before being transferred to an acute medical unit.
Alice said: “It was probably easier for me because I didn’t know what was going on.
“I couldn’t Google it, so I didn’t know how dangerous it was.”
Alice with her father, Richard
A lumbar puncture test diagnosed group B meningococcus, which Alice had been vaccinated against when she was around 14 years old.
She urged other young people to check if their shots had expired and to book a booster if they had, as hers ran out in January.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain which can be spread by kissing, sneezing and coughing – although Alice told Public Health Scotland she had no idea where she might have gotten it.
No one else in her halls or that she knows has gotten sick from it, but she described the reaction of her friends’ parents as “petrified” when they found out.
Alice and her mother Sarah
She said: ‘I had no headaches until I was in hospital, no stiff necks, no vomiting.
“When they did a lumbar puncture they said I could be paralyzed or have sepsis, or lose fingers or toes, or have hearing loss or brain damage.
“They had to keep me away from people because meningitis is contagious, it was quite lonely but I had a Percy Pig toy with me.
“Because I slept so much, I was less alone.”
Her father Richard, 58, cut short a cycling holiday in Italy to visit her and her mother caught the first train to Edinburgh from Surrey.
Alice said: “I haven’t even kissed anyone – but I’m thankful it didn’t happen on vacation.
“I was supposed to go to Marbella but that was cancelled, but the doctors also didn’t think I would be well enough to go to Croatia.
“It’s scary – I had planned to go clubbing on Wednesday, but I woke up not feeling very well, and within five hours I was in hospital.
“We are more aware as a family because we know someone who died from it, but we didn’t know the vaccination expires.
“My odds were one in 10, but I feel completely like myself now.”