Athens native Jessica Elkins died Dec. 26, 2007, due to meningitis. She was a beloved cheerleader and freshman at Athens High School.
Since her death, the Elkins family has worked to educate the public about the disease.
For more than a decade in Athens and Limestone County, Sept. 23 has been Meningitis Awareness Day.
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks and Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly recently joined the Elkins family to mark Wednesday, Sept. 23, as Meningitis Awareness Day. Sept. 23 is set aside each year for awareness day because it is the birthday of Jessica Elkins.
On this day, and the days that follow, the family hopes everyone will take time to learn about the symptoms and vaccinations related to meningitis.
The Elkins family wants to encourage parents to educate themselves about the disease so another family will not experience the same tragedy.
“Our hearts ache daily for our precious Jessica,” Jessica's mother Michelle Elkins said in a previous interview with The News Courier. “We pray that we can save at least one life each time we tell others about Jessica and the vaccine.”
Elkins family members understand parents can't watch their teens every minute of every day, but they encourage all families to help protect children from meningococcal disease, which includes meningitis, by getting them vaccinated.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by a bacteria or virus, but it can also be caused by certain medications or illnesses.
Bacterial meningitis is rare but usually serious and sometimes life-threatening if not treated right away.
Viral meningitis is relatively common and far less serious. It often goes undiagnosed, because its symptoms are a lot like the common flu.
People who are usually healthy can get meningitis. Although the risk of getting meningitis increases in teens and young adults, kids of any age can end up with the disease. Everyday activities, including sharing utensils and drinking glasses, living in close quarters such as a dormitory or summer camp and smoking or being exposed to smoke, can cause the disease to spread.
Some activities, such as staying out late and irregular sleep patterns, can make teens feel run down and put them at greater risk for meningitis by weakening their immune systems. Each year, meningococcal disease strikes nearly 3,000 Americans, and 10 to 12% of those will die from the disease. Up to 20% of survivors suffer long-term disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss or limb amputations.