A fever and dull headache: these were the first symptoms my fiancé Kyle had in 2012.
He died two days later.
Like most people facing bacterial meningitis, we thought he just had the flu. Knowing that a vaccine could have saved his life — his and countless others — is one of the hardest parts of surviving.
Meningitis is very contagious. It is a bacterial disease affecting the brain and spine that starts with mild aches and pains, but can leave its victims fighting for their lives within hours. Teenagers and college students living in close quarters are most at risk, as are those who are HIV-positive, like Kyle. According to the New York City Department of Health, more than half of all meningitis infections in the city occur among people living with HIV.
Even with undetectable viral loads, the HIV-positive community is at high risk to die from exposure. Kyle was the healthiest guy I knew. I never would have imagined this could happen to him. Meningitis has also claimed the lives of teenagers in New York State, and I’ve met parents who have to live on without their kids. In 2015 alone, there have been cases at the University of Rochester, Yale, and Providence College. At the University of Oregon, six students contracted the disease, and one died.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1,000 people —including young adults and teens — contract meningitis each year in our nation; 13 to 19 percent of them die, and hundreds more lose limbs, hearing, and experience severe, life-long complications. Approximately 20 percent of the population are carriers, unaffected, but a risk to others.
Meningitis is silent, fast-moving, and deadly. That’s why we need to make sure that everyone gets this life-saving vaccine.
A new bill introduced in New York State can help make that happen. This bill adds the meningitis vaccination to the standard vaccine schedule for all kids through 7th and 11th grades, so that they are fully protected against this disease. New Jersey and Connecticut have mandated this practice; their incidences of infection have plummeted. It’s time New York do the same.
Two shots in the arm, that’s all it takes. The vaccine is safe, inexpensive, and has little-to-no side effects. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible; he or she can explain or alleviate any concerns you have.
I live with the failure that cost Kyle his life; had someone written this article in 2012, had we acted upon it, he’d be alive. As policy makers, community leaders, parents and loved ones, we are responsible not only to the health of our own, but also to the health of others around us.
I urge the Governor and Legislature to advance this bill. I urge you to contact your representatives in support of this bill. We need to protect New Yorkers, our children above all, from meningitis.
We need to do our part to help save lives before it’s too late.
KEVIN CUMMINES is a composer and performer committed to diversity in his output, ranging from electronic music to theatrical and film scores, commercial and experimental genres, for choral and instrumental platforms.