Emma H's story

26th December 2006

On Boxing Day in 2006, Emma Howell, was suffering with a headache so severe, that she was taken to hospital by her worried parents.  Emma, from Aberdare in Wales, was later diagnosed with meningoencephalitis HSV1; a form of viral meningitis


"I had been ill for several weeks with a cough and a cold. On Boxing Day, I had no energy and a violent headache, so I went to bed early. The headache continued to get worse; I started being sick and developed an aversion to light."

"My parents telephoned NHS Direct who stressed that I should not wait for an ambulance to arrive; I should go straight to hospital. I don't remember much at all after this. My main memory is the horrific headache I suffered, and the car journey to hospital. I have very little memory of being in hospital."

Living with after-effects

"Seven years on my memory is still very bad, and I get tired very easily. As a consequence of the meningoencephalitis I have developed rheumatoid arthritis due to the fact that my immune system was so badly compromised.

"I feel that even though I was the one that suffered the meningitis, I think I got off lightly compared to my parents and my children. My eldest son used to get particularly upset when I went to the hospital for check-ups as he was worried that I would have to stay there. My parents also had the stress of not knowing what the outcome was going to be.

"The after-effects of viral meningitis are not well documented and through my own experience people do not seem to think that it is serious. It has completely changed my life, I have a very bad short term memory and therefore I have had to adapt and compensate for this."

Turning life around

"Even though I have found it a struggle to deal with the after-effects of the meningitis for the last few years, I think it would be encouraging for people to hear that I have overcome it. In September 2007 I started a medical biochemistry degree. I was given an allowance of 25% extra time in the examinations but that was the only allowance. I gained a first class honours degree in 2010 and was awarded the Oxford University Press Prize by Swansea University.

"Since then I have started a PhD in microbiology and infection within the Cytochrome P450 group, also at Swansea University. I know that without having viral meningitis I would not have been forced to re-evaluate my life and make the decision to return to my studies. So, all in all, out of something so dramatic, something really positive has happened."

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