Misdiagnosed Meningitis – Making A Compensation Claim

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a potentially fatal illness that causes the meninges, tissues, surrounding the spinal cord and brain to swell. Meningitis can be caused by viruses and around 50 different bacterial infections. Because meningitis can be caused by bacteria it can also cause Sepsis, blood poisoning, if not treated quickly, which can have serious and life-threatening consequences.

A delay in diagnosing meningitis, or a misdiagnosis can have dramatic consequences for a patient and healthcare professionals must act quickly to spot the symptoms. However, this can be difficult due to the speed bacterial meningitis spreads and as some symptoms may mimic other conditions.

Symptoms of meningitis

It is generally more common for bacterial meningitis to be overlooked in babies and young children. The most common types of bacteria which can cause meningitis in babies includes: Group B Streptococcal (GBS), E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella. Diagnosis is made increasingly difficult in young children and babies as they cannot easily explain their complaints and the healthcare professional is reliant upon their own observations and the history taken from the parents and past healthcare staff who have come into contact with the child in order to make a diagnosis.

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis you would expect to see in young children and babies include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Poor feeding
  • Change in behaviour, for example increased drowsiness, agitation or confusion
  • Floppy/unresponsive
  • Unusual cry or moan
  • Bulging Fontanels
  • Fever with cold hands and feet
  • Sickness and diarrhoea
  • Convulsions or seizures

We should not forget however that people of all ages can be affected by meningitis and appropriate treatment may be delayed due to a failure to perform the correct tests, or treatment of bacterial meningitis as a viral condition, or failure to recognise the symptoms; such as a stiff neck, dislike of bright lights, deliriousness and a fever.

Testing and treating bacterial meningitis

If meningitis is suspected, blood tests should be completed to check for bacteria or viruses and if necessary and viable, a CT scan performed to check for any swelling of the brain. In addition, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) should be collected as quickly as possible for testing for bacteria and viruses. This is done using a lumbar puncture, which takes the fluid from the spine. This procedure in and of itself can be tiring for a patient, as it can cause headaches and dehydration until the CSF is replaced in the body and so should be performed at the earliest opportunity.

Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics and usually this will occur before a diagnosis is confirmed. Additional medication or treatment may be required depending on the stage at which the meningitis was diagnosed, for example, steroid medication may be needed to reduce swelling around the brain.

What are the after effects?

Depending on when the meningitis was diagnosed health problems sustained may be temporary or permanent and they might be physical, cognitive and/or emotional.

Physical disabilities might include:

  • Hearing or sight loss
  • Tinnitus
  • Dizziness/loss of balance
  • Problems with speech
  • Problems with co-ordination
  • Amputation of limbs
  • Weakness or paralysis or spasms

Cognitive issues can also be caused by failure to properly treat meningitis, for example:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of executive functioning skills
  • Personality changes

Depending on the circumstances of each individual, it may be that therapy and rehabilitation is required to assist in their recovery. However, if treated quickly, most people will not sustain complications or permanent damage, but the accuracy of the diagnosis and efficacy of the treatment is vital.

Making a claim for misdiagnosed meningitis

As outlined above, meningitis is a potentially fatal illness that must be treated quickly in order to avoid life threatening consequences, which could leave the patient disabled.

If you were seen by a health care professional and there was a delay in testing and providing the correct treatment for meningitis, and as a result your overall prognosis worsened, you might be able to make a claim.

Instances of misdiagnosis or failure to treat include:

  • Your healthcare professional failing to perform the necessary tests for meningitis or make appropriate enquiries, despite your clinical history and observations being symptomatic of meningitis;
  • Where the correct tests are performed, but are not reported on in a timely manner, or are misinterpreted; and
  • Where, despite the clinical history given which is indicative of meningitis, you are provided with ineffective treatment options.

Please note that you may be able to make a claim for misdiagnosed meningitis on behalf of a family member who has sadly passed away due to a failure to diagnose meningitis. Furthermore, if your child was misdiagnosed and sustained injuries as a result, you can also pursue a claim on their behalf provided they are still under 18 years old.

Misdiagnosed Meningitis Claim

How can Nelsons help?

Kate Harrison is an Associate in our Medical Negligence team.

If you would like any advice in relation to making a claim for misdiagnosed meningitis or any related subjects, please contact Kate or another member of the team in Derby, Leicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.