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Bacterial Meningitis – The Dangers of Misdiagnosis

Bacterial meningitis is a rare but potentially fatal disease. Several types of bacteria can cause an upper respiratory tract infection and then travel through the bloodstream to the brain. The disease can also occur when certain bacteria invade the meninges directly. Bacterial meningitis can cause stroke, hearing loss, and permanent brain damage.  Bacterial meningitis causes inflammation around the membranes of the brain and spinal cord due to a bacterial infection. This inflammation leads to increased intracranial pressure and can cause a catastrophic brain injury or death if the patient does not quickly receive proper medical treatment.  However, most people recover from bacterial meningitis if it is diagnosed and treated quickly.  If you were harmed by bacterial meningitis and you suspect the harm was caused by medical malpractice, you should consult the experienced personal injury and medical malpractice attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano.  We help clients throughout the Upstate New York area with offices in multiple convenient locations. Our extensive experience in the medical malpractice field is reflected in the results we have achieved for our clients.

Some forms of bacterial meningitis are contagious and can be spread through contact with saliva,

nasal discharge, feces, and respiratory and throat secretions.  These are often spread through kissing, coughing, sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils, or such personal items as toothbrushes, lipstick, or cigarettes.  Outbreaks of bacterial meningitis can occur in living situations where you are in close contact with others. People sharing a household, at a daycare center, or in a classroom with an infected person can become infected. College students living in dormitories, in particular, college freshmen, have a higher risk of contracting meningococcal meningitis than college students overall. Children who have not been given routine vaccines are at increased risk of developing certain types of bacterial meningitis.

There are several types of infectious and non-infectious meningitis. They have different risk factors, anticipated outcomes, treatments, and complications.  Meningitis can be diagnosed based on symptoms, and physical examination.  Brain imaging studies can show signs of inflammation of the meninges. The specific type of meningitis and the infectious organism can be identified with a lumbar puncture, which is an invasive test.  Viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis. It can be caused by viruses that are commonly contagious in the community, including enterovirus, mumps virus, herpes simplex virus, varicella-zoster virus (which normally causes chickenpox), Epstein-Barr virus, and West Nile virus. You can develop viral meningitis as a complication of an infection with any of these viruses, although most people who contract them do not develop viral meningitis. Anyone can develop viral meningitis, but it is more common among children. Sometimes it is diagnosed clinically, without a lumbar puncture.  People who have a healthy immune system usually recover quickly from viral meningitis, but it can cause complications, especially among people who have immune problems.  Although viral meningitis often resolves by itself without treatment, bacterial meningitis is a serious illness that can lead to harmful outcomes like hearing loss, brain damage, or death.

Bacterial meningitis is the second most common type of infectious meningitis, and it can be dangerous. The most common causes are Streptococcus pneumonia, Neisseria meningitides, Haemophilus influenzae, Listeria monocytogenes, and group B Streptococcus. These organisms are prevalent in the environment and are contagious. Meningococcal meningitis caused by N. meningitidis is especially associated with outbreaks among clusters of people who live in close quarters, such as in dorms or bunk rooms. The symptoms can progress rapidly, and treatment should be targeted to the infectious organism. Generally, the bacteria is identified with a lumbar puncture. Anyone can develop bacterial meningitis, but it is more common among people who have an impaired immune system or who have had brain surgery or head trauma.

Patients with bacterial meningitis often present to the emergency room complaining of severe headaches, fever, and neck stiffness. If the patient has had these symptoms for some time, the patient may also exhibit signs and symptoms of increased intracranial pressure such as double vision, sensitivity to light, and confusion. Important signs to watch for in an infant include fever, lethargy, not waking for feedings, vomiting, body stiffness, unexplained/unusual irritability, and a full or a bulging of the soft spot on the top of the head. When a patient presents with these symptoms, the physician is obligated to presume that the patient has bacterial meningitis and proceed immediately with further diagnostic testing and the administration of appropriate IV antibiotics and steroids. It can take a few days for lab work to confirm whether the patient has bacterial meningitis, but IV antibiotics are started right away nonetheless because they are life-saving for the patient who is ultimately diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.  When the physician suspects bacterial meningitis, there are still several medical errors that can occur during the course of caring for the patient. Those errors include: (1) failing to start IV antibiotics immediately after either a lumbar puncture is done or blood cultures are obtained; (2) prescribing the wrong antibiotic; and (3) failing to closely monitor the patient’s neurological status after introduction of the IV antibiotic for any signs of increased intracranial pressure so that appropriate medical and surgical interventions can be undertaken as needed to protect the patient.  Any delay in the diagnosis and treatment of meningitis can lead to severe complications, including seizures, brain damage, hearing and vision loss, and problems in the heart, kidneys, and adrenal glands.  Those who do recover may be left with permanent disabilities, such as brain damage, hearing loss, and learning disabilities.

If you or someone you love was harmed by bacterial meningitis that could have been prevented or that wasn’t diagnosed and treated, you should talk to an experienced lawyer at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano. We represent injured clients and their families throughout Upstate New York, including Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, Elmira, Binghamton, Auburn, Ithaca, Oswego, Norwich, Herkimer, Delhi, Cooperstown, Cortland, Lowville, Oneida, Watertown, Utica, Canandaigua, Wampsville, Lyons, and surrounding areas. Please call us at 833-200-2000 or contact us via our online form to discuss your case.

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