Lucy Hale raises awareness for a super-rare, deadly disease affecting teens

May 11, 2015 at 11:20 p.m. ET
Image: FayesVision/

Lucy Hale is reaching out to her fan base to warn them of a very real danger that may affect them more than other people.

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ThePretty Little Liars actress has teamed up with Voices of Meningitis to help with its "Boost the Volume" campaign. She'll sing with the winning high school a capella group in a contest to raise awareness about a disease that disproportionately affects teens: meningococcal meningitis.

"I'm very aware of who supports me and who my fan base is, and that's teens," Hale told People magazine about her decision to support the cause. "Teens are the ones that are at risk here. Oftentimes, I don't get to lend my voice to something that can change a life. Although it's a rare disease, it's one too many. It's always one too many."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, less than 1,000 cases of meningococcal meningitis are reported each year, but the disease is extremely deadly — it can kill an otherwise-healthy person in less than 24 hours.

"It can be difficult to diagnose because it can present like the flu or a viral infection with fevers, child and headaches," SheKnows Expert and family medicine physician Dr. Shilpi Agarwal explained. "Although it is very dangerous, it is still uncommon, which also makes it more difficult to diagnose."

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Dr. Agarwal continued, "The disease itself causes inflammation and infection around the brain. This can quickly progress to infection within the entire body and death. Additionally, it can be deadly because if diagnosis is delayed treatment may not be initiated in time."

Teens are at a particularly high risk to contract the disease because they tend to live in close proximity — at school, in dorms or at summer camps. Their behaviors can also spread the disease, like kissing and sharing drinks and utensils.

Dr. Agarwal added that vaccination is the "single most important way to protect against meningitis."

Kids can and should be vaccinated by the time they hit their teens, but a CDC survey showed less than 30 percent of children aged 13-17 actually are.

One of those, according to People, was Jamie Schanbaum, who contracted meningitis at the University of Texas at Austin when she was 20 years old. Schanbaum woke up vomiting and shivering, and 14 hours later, she went to a hospital, where she stayed for the next seven months. During her treatment, her legs and most of her fingers were amputated.

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"I literally watched my limbs go from red rash, to purple, to black, to literally rotting limbs," Schanbaum said. "And I know that's heavy, but it's also important to know it's not like, 'Oh, you'll be in the hospital for a couple days.' You're in the hospital wondering if you're going to survive."

Sounds terrifying, right? Luckily, Schanbaum is working to pass legislation requiring children to be vaccinated and Hale is helping to spread the word.

"I was just always aware of when I was getting my shots, what I was getting my shots for," said Hale, whose mother is a nurse. "I feel very blessed that I grew up in a house where I knew the importance of vaccinations... for me, there's no question that it can save a life from some potentially deadly and scary diseases such as meningococcal meningitis."