Failure to Diagnose Meningitis Attorney

Tulsa Failure to Diagnose Meningitis Attorney

The symptoms of meningitis will often mimic those of the flu, which, unfortunately, leads to misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose. It is a complicated disease, with up to 15 percent of the Oklahoma population carrying the bacteria, but never even experiencing any illness.

Meningitis is the swelling of membranes, or meninges tissue, that cover the brain and spinal cord caused by a viral or bacterial infection within the fluids of that part of the body. If it is not treated properly or goes undiagnosed by doctors, nurses, or other hospital staff, meningitis can cause irreversible brain damage or can be fatal. Sadly, young children and teens are at a higher risk of contracting it. A misdiagnosis of meningitis can lead to serious lifelong complications, and victims should be able to recover compensation to help them cope with a new reality.

What are the Symptoms of Meningitis?

Again, many symptoms of meningitis are similar to some of the warning signs of the flu. Detecting these symptoms immediately could mean the difference between life and death.

Meningitis symptoms in children and teens may include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle pain
  • Confusion
  • Red spots or rash

For infants and toddlers, it is important to recognize these signs of meningitis as well – especially since they cannot voice them to others:

  • Rapid breathing or grunting
  • Irritability
  • Lack of appetite, lack of sleep, or lack of energy
  • Abnormal cry
  • Any bulging soft spots found on the head
  • Jaundice
What are the Possible Causes of Meningitis?

The concern at the root of every parent’s mind is: What could have caused my child to be exposed to meningitis?

The disease spreads through contact with infected people or fluids, which can even be passed via tiny droplets in the air. The leading causes are:

  • Through viruses, or viral infections within the gastrointestinal system. Measles, mumps, and herpes viruses can also cause meningitis – especially for children with weakened immune systems.
  • Through bacteria, including Group B streptococcus, E. coli, and more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that bacterial meningitis, which is extremely serious, is fatal for 500 patients a year, with infants as the highest risk.
  • Through insufficient safety practices, such as when doctors, nurses, and hospital staff do not wash their hands, fail to clean medical equipment that may possibly be infected, or fail to quarantine patients with either viral or bacterial meningitis.
Why is it Important to Diagnose Meningitis Quickly?

According to the Meningitis Research Foundation, there are about 50 kinds of bacteria that can cause meningitis, with meningococcal bacteria being the most common. And it spreads quickly, so any delay in diagnosis can result in severe complications or be life-threatening.

If there is not a timely diagnosis and treatment made, it could lead to:

  • Seizures
  • Brain damage
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Hearing and vision loss
  • Problems in the heart, kidneys, or adrenal glands
  • Sepsis, when the infection spreads into the bloodstream and leads to organ shutdown

Because infants and younger children cannot always voice or describe their symptoms to parents, caregivers, or hospital staff, they are more at risk for a missed diagnosis, so it is even more critical to pay close attention to the symptoms listed above.

Please take children displaying the above symptoms to a pediatrician or emergency room. Doctors will typically run a clinical exam to find out whether or not there is a potential meningitis infection, which includes an eye and ear exam, This could be followed by further diagnostic tests, like a spinal tap, blood tests, EEG, or a CT, MRI or X-ray to verify if, first of all, there is any inflammation of the membranes and, second, if the infection is viral or bacterial.

What Are Some Misdiagnoses of Meningitis?

Because early symptoms of meningitis can overlap the same symptoms of other infections and illnesses, it is difficult for healthcare providers to make a clear-cut diagnosis.

Here are just a few differentials doctors should keep in mind to avoid a failure or misdiagnosis of meningitis:

  • Flu or viral infections – More often, meningitis symptoms will surround the head, neck, and eyes versus other infections that involve the throat and sinuses, which can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Migraines – If a patient has never had a migraine headache, they should not assume it is one. This could be the onset of meningitis and they should seek medical help.
  • Muscle strain – With meningitis, a pulled muscle in the upper shoulders or back can feel worse with movement – especially when changing the position of the head and neck. Pure muscle strains tend to be centered around a particular muscle.
  • Low blood pressure – This is usually a result of dehydration, blood loss, or a previous medical condition. But it could lead to meningitis as a cause if accompanied by a fever or stiff neck.
  • Seizures – Symptoms of these changes in consciousness include lightheadedness, dizziness, headaches, and short-term fever. But it is possible for meningitis, or encephalitis, to cause seizures as well.
Who is at Higher Risk of Contracting Meningitis?

Meningitis affects 5 million people worldwide each year, with 1 in 10 dying as a result. While anyone is susceptible to contracting meningitis, there are several factors to be aware of that can increase the risk, such as:

  • Age: Specifically younger children under 5 and teens
  • Living environment: Where the infected live is a factor. Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, consistently leads in meningitis cases. There is also evidence that proves that mass gatherings and exposure to smoke are also linked to higher risks.
  • Previous medical conditions: This includes problems with the immune system
  • Close contact: If there is a situation in which someone has been in close contact with someone who has meningitis and was not isolated, there is a higher risk of disease.
What Are Some Ways to Treat Meningitis?

If a doctor makes the critically timely diagnosis that is necessary, he or she can begin treatment immediately, which will depend on the type of meningitis diagnosed.

Treatments can include:

  • Medications
  • IV fluids or antibiotics
  • Oxygen supplementation for more urgent cases to decrease shock and brain swelling

The sooner treatment can be administered, the less chance of complications, like sepsis or any permanent neurological damage. If the treatment is delayed or misdiagnosed, however, it could be lethal. According to the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases, deaths from bacterial meningitis increase by 12 percent every hour the diagnosis is delayed and treatment does not happen.

What Happens if Meningitis is Not Treated?

If meningitis goes untreated or undiagnosed – or if there is a delay in treatment – there could be serious after-effects and complications that patients endure down the road. It actually increases the chances of death.

Septic patients recovering from bacterial meningitis could experience these effects within a few hours after symptoms begin:

  • Brain damage
  • Seizures
  • Organ failure
  • Amputation

While many people recover from meningitis without lifelong complications, long-term after-effects for others could include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Blindness
  • Learning problems
  • Limp loss
  • Speech problems

Long-term complications may be permanent, but, depending on the severity, several months of treatment, such as physical, speech, and occupational therapies, may help to improve symptoms.

How Common Are Failure to Diagnose Meningitis Cases?

The failure to diagnose meningitis is more common in the United States, with about 12 million patients who seek outpatient medical care being diagnosed, according to a peer-review medical journal. An additional medical study done in 2012 showed that two of the most common reasons for misdiagnosis are mistakes in ordering diagnostic tests and errors by doctors in interpreting the results of those tests.

In one particular medical malpractice case in 2015, a jury awarded the plaintiff nearly $10 million for serious injuries that were a result of the failure to diagnose and treat the 11-month-old boy with bacterial meningitis over the course of his three emergency room visits to the children’s hospital.

After three days of being sick with a fever, the plaintiff’s mother brought him to the ER, where medical staff diagnosed him with an upper respiratory infection and discharged him with his mother. She returned with her son the next day with a high fever, rapid heartbeat, and high respiratory rate, indicators to test for bacterial meningitis, but they did not. When she returned on the third day, testing was delayed, and the results (positive for bacterial meningitis) were delayed even further, so treatment was too late. The child had already suffered irreparable brain damage and, as a result, he will be functionally illiterate for the rest of his life.

How to Get Justice for a Failure to Diagnose Meningitis Case

If you or a beloved family member has suffered from or lost a life because of a physician’s failure to diagnose meningitis, the experienced wrongful death legal support provided at Graves McLain will help you through this challenging time. Contact us today so that we can discuss your case in more detail.

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