Lucy Hale is fighting the villainous "A" on ABC Family's hit drama "Pretty Little Liars," but offscreen she's warning teens about a different villain entirely: meningococcal meningitis.
The infection, which affects approximately 4,100 people per year in the United States, is a bacterial illness that results in inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It's contagious, although not as contagious as viruses like the common cold, and usually is spread through an exchange like kissing or using the same eating utensils. The symptoms are somewhat similar to the flu, and typically include fever, vomiting and sometimes even a confused mental state. Meningitis can also be fatal.
Hale is speaking out about the severity of the illness through a new PSA. She partnered with meningitis survivor Jamie Schanbaum for Boost the Volume, a campaign for the Voices of Meningitis program. The initiative is designed to promote the benefits of the meningitis vaccine.
The pair chatted with The Huffington Post about the campaign and what they want everyone to know about the potentially fatal infection.
What inspired you to get involved with this project?
Lucy Hale: I grew up sort of knowing how potentially dangerous and deadly meningitis could be. My mom was a nurse, so I grew up in a household where regular doctors' visits were important and vaccinations were important.
The Boost the Volume campaign is encouraging teens and parents to get the second vaccination for meningococcal meningitis. We challenged high school acapella groups to submit a medley of songs about living your best life and obviously encouraging people to get that vaccination. The musical aspect [of the campaign] and the fact that my mom is a nurse really drew me in. But also my whole fanbase and the majority of people who support me are teenagers and I care about their well-being. That's the age range where teens should be getting their second vaccination, which is around 16 years old.
What's your advice for your young fans when it comes to taking care of themselves?
LH: My advice to them -- and their parents -- is to just talk to their healthcare providers. Ask about vaccinations. For meningitis, the first vaccine is more well-known, but that vaccination wears off, so it's important that you get the second dose.
What other lessons about health did you learn from your mom?
LH: She taught me to just listen to my body and ask questions when something feels off. I was just lucky that she transferred her health knowledge to me.
Jamie, can you tell me a little bit about your experience with meningitis?
Jamie Schanbaum: I was 20 years old when I got meningitis. The thing about the infection is that it can kill someone in 24 hours. I was lucky enough to be admitted to the hospital within 14 hours, but since I was unvaccinated I suffered scary consequences. Not only was I in the hospital for about seven months, I also had some amputations -- all of my fingers, basically, and my legs below the knee.
What has your involvement in Voices of Meningitis meant for you emotionally?
JS: To go through all of that and learn that it could have been prevented is this whole other situation you have to process and bear. I definitely turned myself around in order to make people aware of this disease because I didn't know anything about it. Now I just want to make sure people are educated which is why I am so proud to be part of this campaign. It's been empowering and educational.
What do you both wish people knew about meningitis?
LH: It's extremely scary. It can potentially take the life of an otherwise healthy person in 24 hours or less. It's a deadly disease that can be prevented, so why not take care of it?
JS: I was just a student, in college for the first time. I felt invincible and then so much was just taken away from this illness. But my life was definitely rebuilt and I was even able to end up on the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team. A new leaf turned for me, but it didn't have to be this way. It's a passion of mine to make sure students are aware of this disease.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Check out the Boost the Volume PSA below to learn more about the meningococcal meningitis vaccine:
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