Families warn to look out for Covid and hangover-like symptoms after teens killed by meningitis

  • Watch Georgia Scott's report

The families of two Bristol teenagers who died from meningitis are urging young people to ensure they're protected against the infection and recognise the symptoms.

One in four young people in the South West have not taken up the offer of a free vaccine according to UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). It's a statistic the families of George Zographou and Ryan Bresnahan want to see change, so others don't go through their pain.

George Zographou was celebrating the end of his A-level exams when he suddenly collapsed at Boardmasters Festival in Cornwall on 11 August in 2017.

George, known by his loved ones as Zoggy, had contracted Meningitis B and died at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro five days later.

George was just 18 when he collapsed at Boardmasters music festival in Newquay and was taken into medical care.

George's sister Nicole described the "complete shock" felt by her and her family after they received a phone call to say the healthy 18-year-old was suddenly in critical condition.

"It was a general unwellness at first," she said. "His deterioration was really rapid. The main symptom was that he was unable to weight-bear on his legs and nausea."

Nicole has now dedicated the past six years of her life since her brother's death to campaigning and raising awareness. She now works in public health and wants to see a clear message delivered to young people about the vaccine and the symptoms of meningitis.

She remembers George as a "wonderful" brother, whose "heart was open to everyone".

George died the day before he was set to receive his A-level results, which included an A* in Business.

"At the time I didn't actually think we could survive this," she said. "We have in our own ways. But our lives have been changed forever and we still think of him every day."

The MenACWY vaccine is one jab which is routinely offered to teenagers in years 9 and 10 at school. Anyone is able to receive this vaccine for free until the age of 25.

Vaccinations against Meningitis B are now offered to to babies aged eight weeks. For anyone older, they can only be accessed privately.

Health experts are encouraging freshers going to university to ensure they've taken up the offer of the MenACWY jab - which protects against four strains of the infection.

Ryan died just weeks after his sixteenth birthday.

"When you go to university you mix with a lot of new people from a lot of different places and from international countries, so the risks are higher because you start to spread your germs between each other," Julie Yates, screening and immunisation lead at the UKHSA told ITV News.

"These vaccines can protect against infections that can be serious and cause disability or death, so we really want young people to be safe, as these are preventable diseases.

"It's really important to check you've had the vaccine and if you haven't, make an appointment to have one, ideally before you go to university or college."

Michelle Bresnahan lost her son, Ryan, to Meningitis B in 2010 just weeks after his sixteenth birthday.

Michelle remembers Ryan as a loving and kind son, who was a talented sportsman with a huge group of friends.

"He woke up on a Wednesday, a very normal day, saying he felt really tired and he'd been sick.

"I left him with no concern and came back to find paramedics at the bottom of our drive, saying 'are you Ryan's mum?' That afternoon, Ryan had died."

Michelle remembers Ryan as a loving and kind son, who was a talented sportsman with a huge group of friends.

"He was just a top boy. He was always laughing but actually had a very caring and sensitive side to him. Ryan and his sister Charlotte were like two peas in a pod. As a family, life was absolutely perfect."

Since losing her son, Michelle has campaigned to raise awareness of the infection and has set up the a LIFE for a Cure charity, in Ryan's name.

"We do a lot of work with Meningitis Now and we've come up with the idea of a fridge magnet, which Exeter University use in their accommodation. That has the signs and symptoms on there.

"Lots of the symptoms are like freshers flu, Covid, and a hangover. If you're in any way alarmed by symptoms, contact somebody", she said.

More information about meningitis, vaccines and its symptoms can be found here.