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Failure to Diagnose Meningitis

One of the most serious types of emergency room malpractice is the failure to diagnose meningitis. Meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is most often caused by bacteria or viruses. Bacterial meningitis is usually much more serious than viral meningitis. Over two-thirds of all meningitis cases occur in children under the age of five.

The failure to timely diagnose bacterial meningitis can have catastrophic consequences. It is estimated that one of every ten meningitis patients dies. Those who survive can suffer from brain damage, deafness, and seizure disorders if the condition is not diagnosed timely or treated properly. Nearly 500 people die each year from bacterial meningitis.

Patients who are suffering from bacterial meningitis often complain of fever and are very lethargic. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion, and sleepiness. As the condition progresses, bruises develop under the skin and spread quickly.

The proper course of action to diagnose bacterial meningitis is to perform a lumbar puncture or spinal tap. However, because the common symptoms of bacterial meningitis are also symptoms of flu, emergency room physicians do not always order the spinal tap. Waiting for further symptoms to appear can be deadly for the patient. Often in cases of failure to diagnose meningitis, the patient is discharged from the emergency department with a diagnosis of flu. When the patient returns hours or days later with worsening symptoms, it is often too late to prevent serious brain damage or death.

Treatment for meningitis includes administration of intravenous antibiotics. Cortico-steroids are often ordered to prevent or diminish hearing loss. Malpractice claims can also stem from improper treatment of meningitis once it is diagnosed. In cases of bacterial meningitis, the proper antibiotic must be ordered in order to kill the specific bacteria that is causing the meningitis.

Whether the failure to diagnose a case of bacterial meningitis is malpractice depends on the circumstances of the case. Expert testimony is required to demonstrate that the physician’s failure to make a timely diagnosis of bacterial meningitis was a breach of the standard of care and that the breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The damages in a failure to diagnose meningitis case can be very high because of the likelihood of significant brain damage or death from the failure to make a timely diagnosis.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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