A PARALYMPIC gold medallist and meningitis survivor is urging families to keep their eyes peeled for symptoms of the life-threatening disease over the holidays.

Sprint champion and Meningitis Research Foundation’s newly appointed patron Jonnie Peacock is warning people across the region to remain on their guard as the risk of contracting the infection increases in winter.

The 19-year-old was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia at the age of five and lost his right leg had as a result.

"It’s great to be working with Meningitis Research Foundation to raise awareness of the disease and find ways to prevent it," the gold medallist said. "I hope I can help make more people aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis so those who get it can be given medical attention quickly and have a better chance of survival.

"Having suffered with it myself, I know first-hand how awful it can be and the after effects on those around you, hopefully my involvement will help make a difference."

The risk of meningitis and septicaemia heightens around Christmas and New Year when people’s immune systems are weakened from fighting common illnesses like colds and flu, making them more vulnerable to bacterial meningitis, the most deadly kind.

Jonnie’s mum Linda Roberts, seen by millions hugging him after he won gold at the Paralympics, has also been working with Meningitis Research Foundation. She recently met with MPs and members of the House of Lords at a reception in Westminster where she recalled her family’s journey from shell shock at Jonnie's amputation to their pride as he secured a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics.

Chris Head, MRF chief executive, said: "Jonnie is a role model to all young children and adults who have been left with serious after effects as a result of meningitis and septicaemia. He and his mum Linda have been incredibly supportive and we are thrilled they have agreed to take on more official roles. This is one of the peak periods for meningitis and septicaemia and I hope Jonnie’s support will help us to spread awareness of the symptoms more widely."

More UK children under the age of five die from meningitis than any other infectious disease.