Joe Swash health: Dancing on Ice star felt ‘sheer terror’ amid life-threatening infection

Scoring 21.5 in his week one display to Olly Murs’ Dance With Me Tonight – putting him in seventh place out of 12 across the two weeks – will Joe keep climbing up the ranks? Physically taxing for most contestants, the demanding training regime must feel like an easy ride compared to Joe’s health battle with meningitis.

The deadly disease can kill in hours. Speaking of his own experience with meningitis in the past, Joe told the now-defunct News of the World: “I was certain I’d die.

“My head hurt so much I wanted the nurses to cut it off.”

The father-of-two caught the dangerous condition back in 2005, before he was a dad to Harry, 12, and seven-month-old Rex – who he shares with Loose Women panellist Stacey Solomon.


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After collapsing at his mum’s house, Joe was rushed to hospital.

“I was sure I’d suffered a stroke because my body was numb,” he recalled.

“Then the headaches started and I thought it was something much worse. I’ve never felt pain like it.”

The doctors diagnosed him with viral meningoencephalitis – a type of meningitis.

The viral infection causes inflammation of the membranes – known as meninges – that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Tiny blood vessels within the membranes are then damaged, allowing the virus to spread to the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

“I couldn’t feel the left side of my body. It was numb,” Joe continued.

“I tried wiggling my toes and my legs. My arm felt like it was sagging, almost hanging off my body.

“Then I tried to move my mouth and felt sheer terror come over me – I couldn’t move my lips.

“It was terrifying. I’ve never been that scared before.”

Meningitis Now – the UK’s largest meningitis charity, whose mission is to “save lives and rebuild futures through awareness, research and support” – state that the pressure put on the brain can lead to nerve damage.

The charity lists symptoms of meningitis, as follows:

  • Severe headache
  • Dislike of bright lights (photophobia)
  • Neck stiffness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion and drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions/seizures


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According to the charity, one way in which health professionals test someone for meningitis is with a lumbar puncture.

This is when a needle is inserted into the spinal canal to collect CFS to check for infection.

Although most people will make a full recovery, some people can be left with serious and life-changing after-effects.

Commonly occurring after-effects include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dizziness/balance problems
  • Hearing difficulties

Various other after-effects have also been reported to Meningitis Now, including personality changes, aching joints or limbs, sight problems, learning difficulties, speech and language problems, noise intolerance and light aversion.

There an estimated 6,000 cases of viral meningitis each year in the UK, with viral meningitis being more common than bacterial meningitis.

Another way meningitis can develop is from a fungal infection – although this much more rare than viral and bacterial infections.

Dancing On Ice airs Sundays on ITV at 6pm.

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