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Damages From Failure to Diagnose Meningitis

One of the most serious types of emergency room malpractice is the failure to diagnose meningitis. Meningitis is a bacterial infection and inflammation of the membranes and fluid that surround your brain and spinal cord. Bacteria or viruses are the most common causes of meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis is far more dangerous than viral meningitis. Children under the age of five account for more than two-thirds of all meningitis cases. Bacteria can enter the brain or meninges via the bloodstream or direct contact. Certain bacterial infections in the body are known to increase the risk of meningitis. Bacteria that cause pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and other upper respiratory infections are among them. Bacterial meningitis can be caused by flu bacteria or listeria found in uncured meats. Infections can enter the brain via the bloodstream or directly through the sinuses, ears, or a skull fracture.

The failure to timely diagnose bacterial meningitis can have catastrophic consequences. It is estimated that one in every ten meningitis patients dies. If the condition is not diagnosed and treated properly, those who survive may suffer from brain damage, deafness, and seizure disorders. Bacterial meningitis kills nearly 500 people each year. At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, our highly experienced medical malpractice attorneys may be able to help you recover the compensation you deserve.  We help clients throughout Upstate New York, 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. 

Patients suffering from bacterial meningitis frequently complain of fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, severe headache, stiff neck, changes in mental status, sleepiness, difficulty awakening, agitation/irritability, rapid breathing, unusual posture with head and neck arched backward, decreased consciousness, and bulging fontanelles (soft spots on infants' heads) are common symptoms. As the condition worsens, bruises form beneath the skin and spread rapidly. Bacterial meningitis manifests itself quickly. The severity of bacterial meningitis symptoms is determined by the patient's immune system and response, which is influenced by age and immunocompromised conditions such as underlying infections.

Doctors are well aware of the symptoms and should always consider meningitis when treating a patient who exhibits any of the symptoms. Antibiotic treatment is effective and can prevent severe brain damage even in severe cases of meningitis. However, if the infection is not detected and treated promptly, the patient may go into a coma, suffer permanent brain damage, or die within days.

Meningitis caused by viral infections often resolves on its own. Viral meningitis typically affects children and adults under the age of 30, with the majority of infections occurring in children under the age of five. The exact incidence rate of bacterial meningitis is unknown, but it is estimated to be 3 per 100,000 in Western countries, while viral meningitis is more common, accounting for 10.9 per 100,000.

Meningitis can be caused by a variety of viruses, including enteroviruses, herpes viruses, and West Nile virus, among others. Fungus, chemical irritation, drug allergies, and tumors are some of the other causes of meningitis.

Medical malpractice is frequently to blame for the severity of injury in meningitis cases. These claims typically involve an infection caused by a delay in diagnosis or failure to treat meningitis properly to stop the infection. Too many doctors dismiss meningitis as a simple headache or fever and the aforesaid may be medical malpractice.

A physical examination is usually used to make a diagnosis, which reveals a fever, stiff neck, and a change in mental status. If meningitis is suspected, a lumbar puncture should be performed to collect spinal fluid for testing glucose, protein, cell count, and culture. Blood culture, chest x-ray, CT scan of the head, and stains to determine bacterial presence and identification are some of the other tests that may be performed. Unfortunately, the initial assessment for fever, stiff neck, and mental status change only effectively captures 44%-66% of meningitis patients. A recent study suggested that a history of headaches is included in physical examinations and that the presence of the four symptoms would have captured 95% of patients rather than 44% in the 696 subjects studied. Some doctors are also overly cautious when it comes to blood cultures. It is non-invasive, and it allows you to rule out a potentially fatal condition.

Immunocompromised patients are another group of patients who are at high risk of misdiagnosis due to a suppressed immune system that makes them susceptible to infections, and the presentation of bacterial infections does not elicit a strong presentation of the indicative symptoms.

Lumbar puncture is the gold standard for diagnosing bacterial meningitis. Because of the various bacteria that may be involved in meningitis, gram staining of cerebral spinal fluid for the presence of bacteria is effective 92% of the time. However, because the most common symptoms of bacterial meningitis are also flu symptoms, emergency room doctors do not always order a lumbar puncture. Waiting for additional symptoms to appear can be fatal to the patient. When meningitis cannot be diagnosed, the patient is frequently discharged from the emergency department with a flu diagnosis. When the patient returns hours or days later with worsening symptoms, it is often too late to save the patient's life.

With a positive predictive value of 94.4% and a negative predictive value of 100%, PCR testing may be the most accurate. This testing, however, is neither widely available nor routine in standard practice.

Antibiotics are the treatment of choice for meningitis, with the type of antibiotic determined by the bacteria causing the infection, which again, may necessitate a lumbar puncture. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, so viral meningitis is usually left untreated, and the infection usually resolves on its own. Antibiotics should be prescribed in cases of suspected bacterial meningitis, with or without lumbar puncture diagnosis, and should not be delayed until the results of the lumbar puncture are obtained. Hospitalization may be required depending on the severity of the infection, and medications and intravenous fluids may be administered to treat symptoms such as brain swelling, seizures, and shock.

According to reports, lumbar puncture delays account for up to 35% of all missed diagnosis cases. Misdiagnosis is also possible because of reliance on the "gold standard" lumbar puncture. An article in the Journal of Emergency Medicine warned of reported cases of negative bacterial CSF tests and normal leukocyte counts in young patients later found to have meningitis. The article suggested that, while follow-up testing is time-consuming, it should be standard practice to ensure that patients are correctly diagnosed and treated. Furthermore, because of the variety of symptoms that may or may not be present because of age and health status, many cases may go undiagnosed, or the time to diagnosis and treatment may be delayed. Malpractice claims can also arise from inadequate treatment of meningitis once it has been diagnosed. In cases of bacterial meningitis, the appropriate antibiotic must be ordered to kill the specific bacteria causing the meningitis.

Misdiagnosis or delay in diagnosis of bacterial meningitis is a major concern because early detection and treatment of bacterial meningitis are critical to preventing permanent damage such as brain damage, hearing loss, seizures, intracranial pressure, decreased intelligence, kidney damage, amputation, or death. Bacterial meningitis is estimated to kill 20-30% of newborns, 2-14% of older children and adolescents, and 19-37% of adults.

Whether the failure to diagnose a case of bacterial meningitis is malpractice depends on the circumstances of the case. Expert testimony is required to show that the physician's failure to diagnose bacterial meningitis promptly violated the standard of care and caused the patient’s injuries. The damages in a failure to diagnose meningitis case can be very high due to the possibility of significant brain damage or death if a timely diagnosis is not made.

If a doctor or other medical professional fails to diagnose meningitis and the patient suffers injuries or other damages as a result, a medical malpractice lawsuit is likely. Medical malpractice holds doctors and nurses accountable when they fail to provide the expected level of care. In terms of diagnosis, the expected medical standard of care states that if another similarly trained doctor would have diagnosed meningitis given the patient's symptoms, then the doctor who failed to do so was negligent.

Our attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano can assist medical malpractice victims in the Upstate New York area in obtaining the financial compensation they are owed for their injuries. Our attorneys will consider all potential sources of loss when filing a medical malpractice suit. We may seek damages for things like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If a patient dies as a result of a failure to diagnose meningitis, their family has the legal right to sue. At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, we represent injured clients and their families throughout Upstate New York, including Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, Buffalo, 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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