Meningitis is not a single illness, caused by a single “bug.” Instead, meningitis – often called spinal meningitis – is any one of a number of infections which can occur in the fluid of the spinal cord, or the fluid surrounding the brain. When a meningitis diagnosis is delayed in an infant or child, the consequences can be devastating.
Types of Meningitis
Meningitis can be one of two types – bacterial or viral. Viral meningitis is usually less severe, making victims less ill and causing fewer permanent injuries. Bacterial meningitis, however, often causes severe illness, and can lead to permanent brain damage, and even death.
Every year in America, about 10,000 people contract meningitis. Of those, about 6,600 cases occur in children. And children and infants under the age of two have the highest rates of meningitis, and the worst prognosis when they do contract this illness. This is largely because these children’s immune systems are not yet mature, and thus are less well-equipped to fight off the infection.
Symptoms and Signs of Meningitis
At the beginning, meningitis can present very much like the flu, or even like a migraine headache. Although not all symptoms are present in every case, the most common signs and symptoms of meningitis are:
- Headache, often severe
- Stiff neck
- Fever, often extreme
- Numbness, cold extremities, or loss of feeling in extremities
- Sensitivity to light
- Disorientation or confusion
- Rash resembling purple spots or rash which does not turn white when pressed (this symptom indicates that the infection is advanced, and blood poisoning has begun)
Headache, stiff neck, and extreme fever are the hallmark symptoms of meningitis in older children and adults. But in those under the age of two, these symptoms can be absent, or very difficult to detect. Meningitis in infants may present as an inactive, grumpy infant, often vomiting or failing to eat. As the infection gets worse, seizures often develop.
Who is Most at Risk?
Anyone can contract meningitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), however, certain groups are at greater risk. Groups at high risk of meningitis include infants and young children, refugees, family members of current meningitis patients, military personnel, college freshmen living in dorms, smokers, and those exposed to secondhand smoke.
Diagnosing Meningitis in Children
Doctors often fail to diagnose meningitis, particularly in infants and young children. Because of the absence of, or difficulty in detecting, the classic adult symptoms, doctors often fail to miss the signs that are there. But when there is a cluster of meningitis symptoms – particularly when there is no obvious explanation for those symptoms – doctors should suspect meningitis and act accordingly.
This is particularly true when the symptom cluster follows a respiratory infection. When a respiratory infection leads to a significant change in the infant’s behavior (failure to eat, grumpiness coupled with abnormal drowsiness), meningitis should be suspected — and the failure to do so may be medical malpractice.
Treatment and Outcomes
Meningitis moves quickly, particularly in young children and infants, and can kill or cause permanent brain injury in only a few hours. Prompt diagnosis and immediate treatment are absolutely essential in ensuring a full recovery. If diagnosed quickly, bacterial meningitis can be overcome using any one of a number of antibiotics.
But often, meningitis is not promptly diagnosed and treated. This failure often constitutes medical malpractice. According to information provided by the Meningitis Foundation of America, certain problems in diagnosing meningitis occur over and over again. These include:
- Failure to promptly see the patient, despite her request
- Failure to properly examine the patient
- Failure to admit the patient to a hospital after examination
- Failure to diagnose the meningitis, or to consult with more experienced physicians when necessary
- Failure to follow up
- Failure to treat meningitis as urgent
- Failure to properly communicate with a child’s parent or guardian
Any of these failures can constitute medical negligence. Each case is different, and must be evaluated individually. If your child’s meningitis diagnosis was delayed, and she suffered permanent injury or death, an experienced attorney can help you to determine whether you might have a medical malpractice claim.
The medical malpractice attorneys at Passen & Powell have a long history of successfully representing individuals and families whose children have been permanently injured as a result of medical negligence. For a free consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at (312) 527-4500 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.