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Published July 27, 2021

What is meningitis?

A delayed meningitis diagnosis can spell heartbreak and disaster for Canadian families. No family should ever have to go through this, but unfortunately it still occurs.

In short, meningitis is a rare illness. Most infants are immunized with an effective Haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine, or Hib vaccine for short. However, it can still occur in babies.

In summary, meningitis is inflammation of the layers of tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges) caused by bacteria.

Life-threatening for any age group, it’s of particular concern in newborns with the survival rate being one out of three.

The biggest problem is that newborns are unable to communicate specific discomfort. Therefore, there’s a greater onus on parents and caregivers to spot the important signs of illness early on. In newborns, important signs of illness that should alert parents and hospital staff to a potentially serious problem include:

  • Headaches;
  • A temptature that is too high or too low;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice);
  • Pauses on breathing;
  • Abnormal drowsiness (lethargy);
  • Seizures;
  • Vomiting;
  • Rashes;
  • Unusual fussiness.

How does meningitis affect newborns?

Devastatingly, all untreated newborns die from the meningitis infection. In other words, their immune system is not mature, and they cannot fight the inflammation. In addition, for children under the age of two, symptoms may be absent or very difficult to detect too.

Infants suffering meningitis often experience inactivity, grumpy behaviour, vomiting, and a lack of hunger. As the meningitis infection gets worse, seizures often develop.

The issue of delayed meningitis diagnosis

Rather worryingly, doctors often fail to diagnose meningitis, particularly in infants and young children. In short, doctors can sometimes miss the signs that were there all along. But when there is a cluster of meningitis symptoms – particularly when there is no obvious explanation for those symptoms – doctors should investigate and rule out meningitis.

How to diagnose meningitis?

In short, there are several ways to diagnose meningitis:

  • Spinal tap / lumbar puncture;
    • The fluid from the spine is analyzed. If there are any bacteria in the sample, they are examined and grown (cultured) for identification.
  • Blood tests;
    • The blood is cultured and analyzed.
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test;
    • Performed with a sample of spinal fluid.
  • Sometimes, ultrasonography or computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain is undertaken.
    • A doctor may perform an imaging test such as ultrasonography or CT or MRI of the brain in order to make sure it is safe to do a spinal tap.

A speedy meningitis diagnosis can lead to a full recovery

Above all, meningitis can kill or cause permanent brain injury in only a few hours. Prompt meningitis diagnosis and immediate treatment are absolutely essential in ensuring a full recovery. To clarify, if diagnosed quickly, bacterial meningitis can be overcome using any one of a number of antibiotics.

What constitutes meningitis misdiagnosis?

Sometimes, meningitis is not promptly diagnosed and treated. This failure often constitutes meningitis misdiagnosis, or in other words, medical malpractice. Unfortunately, certain problems in diagnosing meningitis occur over and over again. To sum up, any of these failures can constitute  medical malpractice.

  • A failure to distinguish meningitis for other illnesses;
  • Failure to order required tests, including a spinal tap and blood test;
  • A failure to admit the patient to a hospital after examination;
  • Failure to diagnose meningitis, or to consult with more experienced physicians when necessary;
  • A failure to follow up;
  • Failure to treat meningitis as urgent;
  • A failure to properly communicate with a child’s parent or guardian.

MG Law helps meningitis diagnosis victims get the compensation they deserve

Ultimately, each case is different, and must be evaluated individually. If your child’s meningitis diagnosis was delayed, and he or she suffered permanent injury or death, speak to an experienced law firm like MG Law. Above all, we can help you determine whether or not you might have a medical malpractice claim. To sum up, call us at (613) 730-8460 to book your free consultation.

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