The Consequences of Misdiagnosing Meningitis

Jan 27, 2017

The Consequences of Misdiagnosing Meningitis

In 2014, an outbreak of meningitis swept the nation, resulting in hundreds of untimely deaths. Although the cause of the epidemic was initially unknown, scientists eventually discovered the link between the spread of the disease and the use of contaminated steroids. Compounding this problem were the multiple misdiagnoses made by doctors. By the time the connection between meningitis and the steroids was made, several people had passed away and hundreds of others were hospitalized. Unfortunately, meningitis is still misdiagnosed on a regular basis, which can in some cases be deadly. If you live in Augusta and were recently diagnosed with meningitis after initially being told that you had a less serious illness, it is critical to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can walk you through your legal options.

Possible symptoms

Meningitis is the acute inflammation of the protective membranes that surround the spinal cord and brain. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the fatality rate for those with undiagnosed and untreated meningitis may be as high as 70 percent. Symptoms can include:

  • High fevers;
  • Severe headaches;
  • Neck stiffness;
  • Vomiting;
  • Sensitivity to light;
  • Joint pain;
  • Irritability;
  • Seizures; and
  • A rash.

Types of Meningitis 

There are three main types of meningitis, including:

  • Bacterial meningitis, which is caused by an infection and can be fatal if not treated with antibiotics as soon as possible;
  • Viral meningitis, which is the most mild form of meningitis and usually clears up within one to two weeks, although it can have more damaging consequences for those with weak immune systems, such as children and the elderly; and
  • Fungal meningitis, which is the rarest form of the disease and is caused by the inhalation of contaminated fungal spores.

An early diagnosis of meningitis is critical to avoiding serious and often permanent effects. Unfortunately, because the symptoms of meningitis are so similar to the symptoms of other less deadly diseases, including the flu and food poisoning, many patients are initially instructed by medical professionals to stay hydrated, take some Tylenol, and wait for the illness to run its course. While this may be effective for the flu, it can be deadly for patients who unknowingly have meningitis. If left undiagnosed, meningitis can have long-term and permanent consequences, including severe brain injury, seizures, amputation, and deafness. For this reason, it is especially important for doctors to carefully assess individuals who present meningitis-like symptoms. In this situation, using extra caution in making a diagnosis could have life saving consequences.

Confirming the Diagnosis

Physicians who suspect that a patient is suffering from meningitis must administer a series of diagnostic tests, which could include:

  • A blood culture;
  • A chest x-ray;
  • A throat culture;
  • A DNA-based test;
  • A MRI; and
  • A CT scan.

While these tests can be extremely informative, a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap, will be required to confirm a diagnosis. The sample of spinal fluid can then be tested for abnormal cell counts as well as glucose and protein levels. Even when meningitis is diagnosed, the physician will need to determine the underlying cause of the illness in order to appropriately treat it. For instance, bacterial meningitis, which can only be treated by administering antibiotics, is much more serious than viral meningitis, which usually does not require any treatment, although in some cases, antiviral medications may be needed. The type of antibiotic used to treat bacterial meningitis depends on the exact type of bacteria that caused the illness. Symptoms, such as brain swelling and seizures can then be treated with intravenous fluids and other medications.

At-Risk Parties 

Meningitis is usually contracted through respiration, meaning that anyone who has recently been exposed to someone who has contracted meningitis is especially at risk. Crowded living quarters further increase the odds of contracting the disease. Other individuals who are more likely to suffer from meningitis include individuals who are over the age of 60 years old or younger than the age of five years old. Symptoms may manifest differently in infants and toddlers, so physicians should be sure to remain diligent for signs of the following symptoms:

  • Agitation;
  • A bulging fontanelle;
  • Decreased consciousness;
  • Poor feeding; and
  • Unusual posture with the head and neck arched backwards.

Those with cystic fibrosis, immunosuppression, diabetes, or adrenal insufficiency may also be at an increased risk of of contracting meningitis.

Medical Malpractice

When a doctor misdiagnoses meningitis or does not diagnose it in time, he or she may be held liable if the misdiagnosis was the result of negligence. However, to establish this, a plaintiff will need to demonstrate that the doctor breached the accepted standard of care. In regards to a misdiagnosis of meningitis, this could mean that a physician failed to perform the necessary tests, such as a spinal tap, or to recognize early warning signs of the disease. If an injured party is able to demonstrate that the doctor failed to meet the appropriate medical standard, he or she could collect compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and in some tragic cases, wrongful death damages. Establishing the correct standard of care will require the testimony of a medical expert who can describe the plaintiff’s condition as well as the appropriate course of treatment or diagnosis methodology.

Contact a Member of our Augusta Legal Team Today

Meningitis leads to tragic deaths every year. Unfortunately, many of those deaths could have been avoided, but for misdiagnosis by a doctor. As a licensed physician as well as an attorney, Ted A. Greve is uniquely qualified to evaluate cases involving medical malpractice, so if you were recently misdiagnosed and now suffer seizures, deafness, or brain damage, please contact us at the law firm of Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A., to determine whether you are eligible to receive compensation for your losses. You can reach a dedicated and experienced personal injury attorney in Augusta by sending us a message containing your contact information and a brief description of your case or by initiating a live chat with a member of our legal team.