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Disney star survives meningitis and speaks out on prevention

It started with a migraine, a fever and then a visit to the doctor. At age 19, Tiffany Thornton, star of Disney’s So Random! sketch comedy series, spent 10 days in hospital with meningococcal disease, fighting for her life. Now she’s joined a campaign to educate teens and parents about meningitis prevention.  

Tiffany Thornton -- Disney star survives meningitis and speaks out on prevention

Meningococcal meningitis is a fast-moving bacterial infection that can kill a healthy preteen or teen in just a single day. Of those who do survive, about 20 percent are left with serious medical complications, such as amputations, brain damage and organ damage. Actress Tiffany Thornton recovered from the disease and had to learn how to walk again. “Needless to say, it was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me,” she says.

Nearly 40 percent of teens unprotected

The facts about meningitis and teens are alarming. A 2011 national survey, commissioned by the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) and Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the Sanofi company for vaccine development, found that the vast majority of adolescents regularly engage in activities that put them at risk of meningitis: sharing drinking glasses and water bottles, sharing utensils, not getting enough sleep, attending sleep-away camp or boarding school or kissing on the lips.

Despite the availability of safe and effective vaccines to help prevent meningitis, nearly 40 percent of U.S. teens remain unprotected.

Thornton is not certain how she got the infection. “I was visiting a friend pretty often who was in college when I got sick, and the disease spreads easily in college dorms, as well as other situations in which preteens and teens are spending a prolonged amount of time in close quarters.”

Best prevention tip: Get vaccinated

Thornton and other meningitis survivors, their families and school nurses have joined the National Association of School Nurses’ Voices of Meningitis campaign to raise awareness that too many preteens and teens remain vulnerable to this potentially devastating disease because they haven’t been vaccinated. Cases of meningitis begin to peak during the winter months, so parents should vaccinate their preteens and teens while they are home for holiday breaks to
help keep them protected.

“Unfortunately, my story is common among those who contract the disease,” Thornton says. “Meningitis often mimics other, less serious viral illnesses, making it hard to recognize and difficult for doctors to diagnose. This is why vaccination is so important. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination for preteens and teens beginning at age 11 with a booster dose by 18 years of age.”

More on meningitis

Bacterial vs. viral meningitis
What is meningitis?
Symptoms of meningitis

Photo credit: Nikki Nelson /

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