Best friend of 18-year-old meningitis victim, Lauren, speaks out: ‘COVID has made people forget about meningitis’


Woodford Green resident Lorna Madhani, is encouraging everyone to know the signs of meningitis after her best friend Lauren died from the disease in her first week at University. The warning comes as cases of meningitis are expected to rise as people begin to socialise following the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Lauren Sandell was 18 years old when she contracted MenW meningitis in 2016. She had returned home from university for the weekend thinking she had “fresher’s flu”, but tragically died shortly afterwards.

Lauren had been best friends with Lorna Madhani, now 22, since school. They had spoken every day for years, and were messaging days before Lauren died.

She said: ‘When my Mum rang to say that Lauren had died, I just didn’t believe her. I was angry. I kept shouting at her, calling her a liar. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.’

Concerned that meningitis has been forgotten about during COVID–19, Lorna is now speaking publicly about her experience for the first time to try and raise awareness.

Meningitis is spread through close contact and new figures from Public Health England Meningococcal Reference Unit show that cases of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia dropped significantly in England and Wales during lockdown – currently at less than a third of cases compared to the same months in previous years. However, as restrictions ease, cases are expected to rise

Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) is using Meningitis Awareness Week to warn people not to be complacent. Cases are expected to rise as people socialise again, and as we move into the winter season which is when we see the peak in yearly cases. For example, MRF funded research shows that carriage rates of meningococcal bacteria in university students, one of the high risk-groups for the disease, increase rapidly in the first week of term as students begin to socialise. On the first day, 7% of students carry the bacteria, on day one, 11% on day two, 19% on day three and 23% on day four. Among students living in catered halls of residence, carriage rates reached 34% by December of the first term.

‘Lauren was due to have the MenACWY vaccine, which would have saved her,’ Lorna remembers. ‘But she hadn’t had it yet.. Neither had I – none of our friends had. It took Lauren to die for all of us to become aware of the vaccine that we should have had in the first place.’

‘Vaccines are the only way to protect people against many forms of meningitis, which is hard to spot and can kill in hours,’ said Rob Dawson, Director of Communications, Advocacy and Support at Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF). ‘While the country is rightly staying alert for COVID, they must also remember to think about meningitis too . We need to make sure that meningitis, and the vaccines which protect against it, are not forgotten as cases are expected to rise over the next few months.’

Lorna, who now works in Event Marketing, has never forgotten her best friend. ‘There have been so many big moments in life since that I wish she’d been there for,’ she said. ‘No one deserves to have their best friend taken away from them when you’re 18 and life is just beginning. She was the most loving and lovable person. I was so lucky to be her best friend.’

Lorna is supporting Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) in encouraging people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis this Meningitis Awareness Week (14th – 20th September).

She said: ‘I thought about Lauren so much in lockdown. COVID-19 has made people forget about other illnesses, like meningitis – but they’re still here and still deadly. Meningitis has not gone away.’

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