Emergency Room Delays in Meningitis Diagnosis or Treatment

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Meningitis is an infection of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord, and it is often a medical emergency. Without quick antibiotic treatment, bacterial meningitis may cause permanent brain damage or death.

Unfortunately, sometimes emergency room doctors take too long to diagnose meningitis and patients don’t get the antibiotic treatment they need quickly enough to prevent brain damage, hearing loss, seizures, learning disabilities, or death.

Meningitis Symptoms and Emergency Room Mistakes

Early symptoms of meningitis mimic other medical conditions, such as the flu. These symptoms include:

  • man showing symptoms of meningitisSudden onset of a high fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Skin rash
  • Lack of appetite
  • Difficulty staying awake

Meningitis can affect people of any age. While the symptoms described above are common in children and adults, newborns and babies may experience:

  • High fever
  • Persistent crying
  • Body stiffness
  • Neck stiffness
  • Excessive sleepiness or irritability
  • Bulging of the fontanel or the soft spot on the top of the baby’s head
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Abnormal reflexes

When a person presents at the emergency room with these symptoms, the emergency room has a duty to follow its own triage procedures and make an accurate diagnosis. Since a delayed diagnosis can cause catastrophic injuries or death, emergency room doctors should test for meningitis when appropriate. Tests include blood tests, imaging tests to look for inflammation or swelling, and a spinal tap or lumbar puncture to test the cerebrospinal fluid for infection. Emergency rooms that dismiss a patient’s symptoms as the flu without proper testing or fail to conduct tests and start treatment quickly put patients at risk of death or permanent injury.

Meningitis Treatment

After a bacterial meningitis diagnosis, treatment should begin without delay. Treatment options include:

  • Intravenous antibiotics. At first, a general broad-spectrum antibiotic may be prescribed until the tests come back and confirm the specific type of bacteria causing the meningitis. At that time, a more specific antibiotic may be prescribed to treat the infection.
  • Other medications, as necessary. A corticosteroid may be administered, for example.
  • Draining sinuses and mastoids. A doctor may drain sinuses and the area around the bones in the outer ear to help get rid of the infection quickly.

Treatment may begin in the emergency room, or a patient may be quickly admitted to the hospital. Either way, the emergency room has a duty to follow its own triage procedures and to prevent a delay in care from delaying bacterial meningitis treatment.

How to Get a Fair Recovery for the Emergency Room’s Mistake

Your loved one may have the right to make a legal recovery if a delay in medical care caused her injury. However, to get the compensation you deserve, you will need to prove that the injury was caused by the delay in care and not the meningitis itself. In other words, you will need to prove that if the emergency room had used reasonable care in diagnosing and treating the meningitis, your loved one would not have suffered the injuries that she experienced.

Your loved one may be unable to pursue a legal recovery without help. You have legal standing to sue on your loved one’s behalf if:

  • You are the parent of a minor child who was hurt
  • You are the legal guardian of an adult who was hurt
  • You are the personal representative of the estate of someone who died

If one of these three situations applies to you, you may hold the emergency room accountable and get your loved one or her estate a fair recovery.

You can start the process today by contacting an experienced Kentucky delay-in-care lawyer who will fight for your loved one’s rights and protect her recovery. While past cases are no guarantee of the outcome of a future case, our lawyers have successfully represented a two-year-old whose meningitis was missed at the hospital and a preschooler who waited a long time in the emergency room and was sent home with meningitis.

To find out more about how we may be able to help you, please call us or fill out our contact form to have us contact you. We would be happy to schedule a free consultation as soon as possible.

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