A San Diego teenager is in the intensive care unit after contracting bacterial meningitis – an illness his family initially thought was the flu.
Eleven days ago, mother Sarah Eyles thought her eldest son, Grant Eyles, 13, had caught the flu bug that’s been going around this season.
Grant couldn’t keep food down and had a high fever, so Sarah kept him home from school for a few days. The 7th grader was still playing video games and behaving like a normal teen.
Grant’s symptoms lingered and his mom decided it was time to see a doctor. When she woke him up to take him to his appointment, Sarah said she realized her son was experiencing something much worse than a cold or flu.
Sarah told NBC 7 her son couldn’t move an entire side of his body and was having trouble making cohesive sentences. She rushed him to the doctor.
There, Grant was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, contracted through a sinus infection.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms can include sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, sensitivity to light and mental confusion.
Those symptoms can appear quickly or over the course of several days and can often resemble a cold or flu, which is why the infection can be difficult to self-diagnose.
Dr. Ted Mazer, an ear, nose and throat surgeon and president of the California Medical Association, said it can be challenging, without testing, to distinguish between a bacterial or viral respiratory infection until a patient experiences more severe symptoms like a spike in fever, muscle aches and confusion.
“A case of sinusitis in a child with a head cold can look like a case of sinusitis,” Mazer told NBC 7. “And, all of a sudden, you have a complication – a bacterial infection – from the sinus to the head and you flip over into a much more serious illness.”
Mazer said that while this past season has been a busy one for upper respiratory viruses including the flu, meningitis is a rarer illness, but one that parents of teens should be aware of.
“Bacterial meningitis is more common in the under 20 age group and it can often times come from some other infection, including a bacterial sinus infection, which itself might come on the heels of a head cold,” he explained. “So, there’s a progression that you have to think about.”
Sarah said Grant had been vaccinated against meningitis. She never thought for a second that was the illness his body was fighting.
The teenager has been hospitalized for the past week. Loved ones have established an online fundraising page to help cover the costs of his medical care, which will likely include a few more weeks in the hospital, plus physical therapy once he’s discharged.
In just four days, the GoFundMe page had raised nearly $11,000 for the teenager.
Mazer said if a child’s flu-like symptoms are getting worse and no longer fit into the mold of a cold or flu, parents should call their child’s doctor and ask if they need to be examined.
“If you have an inkling something is wrong, make that phone call,” the doctor added. “Listen to your gut feeling.”