Meningitis is the infection and inflammation of the protective membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain. A suspected case should be treated as a medical emergency as unnecessary delays in diagnosis could result in life-changing consequences.
What types of meningitis are there?
There are actually only two types of meningitis…
Bacterial meningitis: The most common form of meningitis is caused by meningococcal bacteria, which can lead to a person contracting meningitis, septicemia (also known as sepsis) or both.
Viral meningitis: Although this strain is less life-threatening, the symptoms are very similar to those of bacterial meningitis and it’s important to seek urgent medical help as it can cause life-changing after effects.
What are the main meningitis symptoms?
The symptoms of meningitis vary and depend on the age of the patient.
For babies and young children under five, the main meningitis symptoms are:
- Agitation and refusing to be picked up
- Cold hands and feet
- Convulsions or seizures
- Drowsiness, floppiness or unresponsive
- High fever
- Pale, blotchy skin
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Red rash – that does not fade under pressure
- Refusing to feed
- Stiff neck and sensitive to light
- Tense, bulging soft spot on top of their head, known as the ‘fontanelle’
- Unusual high-pitched cry or moaning
For older children, teenagers and adults, additional meningitis symptoms are:
- Confused and irritable
- Difficult to wake up
- Severe muscle pain
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck
Who is most at risk?
Babies and children under five are much more likely to contract bacterial meningitis so extra care should be taken when their symptoms are assessed.
If a doctor or medical professional does not do this, the misdiagnosis of meningitis can easily occur – especially if the deadly bacterial type is dismissed as a virus.
Because there are often no signs of meningitis in cases of septicaemia (sepsis), this can be a more life-threatening form of the disease.
Thankfully, vaccinations are now offered to babies, teenagers and students to offer greater protection against certain types of meningitis.
How do I know I’ve been misdiagnosed?
Although someone might display one or all of the symptoms, it is sometimes possible to have meningitis and not show any visible signs at all.
Unfortunately, many doctors and staff working in the healthcare system and NHS are stressed and overworked. Sadly, this can lead to errors being made.
In cases involving babies and young children, their symptoms can often be missed because they develop at the same time as another sickness or condition such as swine flu, pneumonia, jaundice or flu.
Common examples of meningitis misdiagnosis include:
- Failure to conduct lumbar puncture or CSF examination
- Delay or failure to administer intravenous antibiotics
- Cerebral spinal fluid not tested for signs of infection
- Doctor misses or misinterprets meningitis symptoms
- A lack of investigations into symptoms of ill health
- Delay in referring you to a specialist
- X-rays and scans are misinterpreted
- Doctor misinterprets test results
- Blood and urine cultures not analysed
- Failure to conduct chest X-ray or CT scan of head
What is the impact of a delayed or incorrect diagnosis?
Meningitis is a disease which must be treated promptly and correctly or its effects can quickly lead to severe and potentially life-changing injuries.
Only the early diagnosis and treatment of bacterial meningitis with antibiotics can prevent permanent neurological damage.
Unfortunately, a delayed or incorrect meningitis diagnosis can often leave the victim needing to make major lifestyle adaptations to cope with the long-term implications.
The after effects of meningitis include:
- Loss of limbs – amputation often prevents spread of disease
- Cognitive problems – memory and concentration issues
- Movement and balance problems
- Serious brain injury
- Loss of eyesight
- Hearing loss
Sadly, 10 per cent of all bacterial meningitis cases also result is a fatality.
What should I do?
In most cases, the signs of blood infections like meningitis are noticed quickly and suitable treatment is provided.
Unfortunately, the misdiagnosis of meningitis often happens because routine checks are not conducted by the medical professionals entrusted with a patient’s care.
If they fail to properly diagnose meningitis or deliver an unsatisfactory level of care which results in an injury which significantly impacts on a person’s life or leads to a fatality, a medical professional could be guilty of medical negligence.
If you’ve been affected in this way, UK law allows appropriate legal action to be taken. We would recommend talking to a meningitis claims specialist as soon as possible to determine the strength of your case and chances of success.
How will a meningitis claim help other people?
Meningitis misdiagnosis rarely has anything but a devastating and long-lasting impact on the victim and their loved ones. Sadly, it can sometimes prove fatal.
Taking legal action is not just about claiming compensation. It’s often the only way to properly investigate what went wrong and find out why – ensuring lessons are leaned and more robust procedures are implemented to prevent it from happening to anyone else in future.
The desire to obtain answers is often the main reason why people pursue a meningitis negligence claim, especially if a death has occurred which could have been prevented.
By finding out how it happened, who is responsible and why; you could help to educate those who made the mistake to ensure it is never repeated.
You can find out all you need to know about making a meningitis misdiagnosis claim here.