Bacterial meningitis is an extremely dangerous and contagious infection that can cause coma, brain damage, paralysis, mental retardation, hearing loss, and death. It makes up about 80% of cases of meningitis in the United States. Most people recover without issues. It can be cured with simple antibiotics, but the diagnosis must be made quickly to avoid life-altering consequences.
Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis
Meningitis involves an infection in the membranes, or meninges, which surround the spinal cord and brain. In severe cases there may be visible swelling of the head and/or neck. The early symptoms are very similar to those of influenza–high fever, lethargy, nausea, and vomiting, sometimes causing misdiagnosis; the characteristic severe headache and stiff neck may also cause doctors to misdiagnose meningitis as migraine.
Other symptoms include difficulty sleeping, confusion, and sensitivity to light. Meningitis can be caused by a virus or one of several common bacteria, usually meningococcus, hemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococcus, or streptococcus Group B.
When a patient presents with high fever, stiff neck, and headache, bacterial meningitis should always be considered a possibility. A spinal tap should be performed and antibiotics administered while waiting for the test results to come back, because any delay in treatment can cause irreversible problems. The antibiotic may be modified to target the specific bacterium which caused the infection once it is identified.
Who is Most at Risk for Bacterial Meningitis?
If left untreated, bacterial meningitis nearly always results in death. Nearly 500 people die of bacterial meningitis every year, many of them children. Infants between 1 and 2 months old are the most susceptible to bacterial meningitis, followed by people living in close quarters such as college students and people living in military barracks.
It can spread quickly through close quarters on people who may not be ill but are carriers of the germs, through sharing of saliva or sneezing and coughing in close quarters, or even though contaminated food.
Many deaths caused by bacterial meningitis could be avoided by prompt diagnosis and treatment. Physicians who misdiagnose and mistreat patients with meningitis may be subject to a medical malpractice claim for their negligence. It's very important to understand, to have a legitimate medical malpractice claim, your physician had to have been grossly negligent by not diagnosing meningitis. This can be extremely difficult to prove in a medical malpractice case.
If you or someone in your family is suffering from permanent impairment or was killed because a health care professional missed a diagnosis of bacterial meningitis, you should consult an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to discuss your options.
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