Do you suspect Meningitis?

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is inflammation of the brain and spinal column lining called the meninges.  Caused by a either a bacteria or virus penetrating the lining of the brain, which can come from any one of hundreds of possible sources, the two most common types of meningitis are meningococcal and pneumococcal.

What are the signs?

Meningitis can be fatal, so where you suspect meningitis immediate medical treatment should be sought from a GP or hospital.  Three critical signs suggestive of the early onset of meningitis are a high fever / temperature, neck stiffness and altered mental state causing a patient to be confused and disorientated.  Other symptoms may include photophobia (pain when looking at bright light), intense headache, vomiting, a rash and limb or joint pain.  In the later stages of the development of meningitis more severe symptoms can include blurred vision, loss of hearing, seizures and even loss of consciousness.

What are the tests and treatment?

When meningitis is suspected a doctor should arrange a CT scan of the brain or, if the patient is stable, a lumbar puncture test.  A lumbar puncture test involves taking a sample of fluid from the spine called cerebral spinal fluid (CSF).  The CSF fluid is examined by a microbiologist or consultant in infectious disease to see if it contains the bacteria or virus cells associated with meningitis.  The patient will then be started on intravenous antibiotics to kill the bacteria.

Meningitis infection can develop very rapidly, so it is crucial that antibiotics are started as soon as possible to give the best possible chance of full recovery.  Antibiotics work by killing the bacteria affecting the meninges and so reducing the oedema (swelling) and inflammation which puts pressure on the brain.  A delay of even a few hours starting antibiotic treatment can be critical and sometimes even fatal.  Unfortunately in 20% of cases of pneumoccocal meningitis even with antibiotic treatment the condition will be fatal.  As meningitis raises intra-cranial pressure it can cause severe neurological disability such:

  • hearing loss
  • blindness
  • loss of bladder or bowel function
  • loss of motor function of lower limbs
  • seizures
  • neuromotor disability
  • epilepsy
  • learning difficulty

which may be reversible or permanent. 

Medical research has looked at factors that determine how well a patient will recover from meningitis.  This has shown that there is a poorer prognosis for patients who are young or old, have a rash, a low Glasgow Coma Score indicating a lack of response and a low white cell count in the CSF.  However, the biggest factor impacting upon a good recovery is the patient's neurological clinical condition when they start their antibiotic treatment.  A delay in starting antibiotic therapy in most cases causes the infection to progress and increase the likelihood of the patient suffering permanent neurological symptoms or, in severe cases, death.

Head Injury UK: Brain Injury Solicitors

A doctor's delay in treating or diagnosing meningitis may give rise to a claim for clinical negligence.  At Head Injury UK our specialist solicitors are experienced in investigating meningitis treatment claims, so should you or anyone you know have been affected by poor treatment of meningitis, contact Clare Langford to see how we can help you.

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