Meningitis and its long-term effects

Meningitis and its long-term effects

When signs of meningitis are mistaken for less serious illness, such as flu, delays in treatment put the patient at risk of permanent disability or death.  For those who survive the disease, the long-term effects of meningitis can be devastating, affecting their physical, mental, emotional and psychological health.

Where the patient’s disability was avoidable but was caused by negligent delay in diagnosis or treatment, they may be entitled to compensation to help them manage or overcome their disability. Compensation may be available to help the bereaved, financially dependent family where negligent treatment results in the patient’s death.

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes which surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. This thin, protective lining is called the meninges. Meningitis means inflammation of the meninges.

The most common cause of meningitis is viral or bacterial infection, but other causes include cancer or fungal infection. Although less common than viral meningitis, bacterial meningitis is a much more serious form of the disease. It is life-threatening, causing rapid deterioration in the patient's condition and if untreated can quickly lead to brain injury, severe disability, and death. It is often associated with blood poisoning, known as septicaemia or sepsis, in which the body’s immune system becomes overwhelmed by the infection and overreacts by attacking its own organs and tissues.

Bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency requiring urgent hospital admission and immediate treatment with intravenous antibiotics.

Who is at risk of meningitis?

Meningitis can affect anyone. The viruses or bacteria which cause meningitis are commonly carried in people’s noses and throats, usually without making them ill, but can be spread by sneezing, coughing, kissing, sharing cutlery or close contact with someone with meningitis.

Meningitis can be spread or caught by people of any age, but those with weakened or undeveloped immune systems are particularly at risk. These include babies and young children, students, the elderly, or those whose immune systems are compromised by ill health.   

How is meningitis treated?

Where possible, taking steps to prevent meningitis, such as vaccination, are the best way to protect ourselves and those we love from the most common forms of this aggressive condition. Currently, vaccinations (in various combinations at different stages of life) are available for a few strains of meningitis, including A, B, C, W and Y. You can find out more about which meningitis vaccines are available from Meningitis Now or from your GP surgery.

Awareness is another key to preventing serious harm from meningitis. Leading meningitis charity, Meningitis Now, provides lots of free information and tools designed to help people recognise early signs of the disease and know when to call for urgent medical help.

Signs and symptoms do not always include the classic signs, such as a rash, or appear in any particular order, but may include any of the following:

  • fever (high temperature);
  • headache;
  • vomiting;
  • diarrhoea;
  • muscle pain;
  • stomach cramps;
  • high temperature with cold hands and feet;
  • confusion and irritability;
  • drowsy or difficult to wake;
  • pale, blotchy skin or a rash which doesn’t lighten under pressure (eg when seen through a glass firmly pressed against the skin) - call 999 urgently if this sign appears;
  • neck stiffness;
  • dislike of bright lights (photophobia);
  • convulsions/fits/seizures.

In babies the signs, in addition to those listed above, may include:

  • refusing food and vomiting;
  • being fretful and dislike of handling;
  • rapid breathing or grunting;
  • unusual cry or moaning;
  • bulging fontanelle (soft spot on head);
  • drowsy, floppy or unresponsive.

Meningitis can kill or cause severe, permanent disability within hours. Meningitis is a medical emergency which requires urgent medical attention, admission to hospital and treatment with intravenous antibiotics. If you are worried about your child, family member or friend who may have worrying signs of meningitis, you should trust your instincts and ask for urgent medical help, repeatedly if necessary.

At Boyes Turner we regularly recover substantial compensation payments for adults and children after medical delays in diagnosis and treatment of their early signs of meningitis have resulted in severe, permanent disability.

What are the long-term effects of meningitis?

1 in 10 cases of bacterial meningitis result in death. Of those who survive, 1 in 3 will suffer lifelong after-effects.  Many people make a full recovery from meningitis. The best chance of a full recovery comes from prompt recognition, admission to hospital and antibiotic treatment.

The long-term effects of meningitis vary for each individual who survives the condition.

  • Amputation after meningitis

Severe meningococcal septicaemia can lead to amputation and limb loss. When the bacteria multiply in the blood, causing blood poisoning or septicaemia/sepsis, the oxygen is reduced in the blood supply to the skin in peripheral areas of the body, resulting in necrosis (death) of the tissues in the fingers, toes, hands and feet. Amputation may be required to prevent the damage spreading to other areas of the body.

  • Brain injury after meningitis

Many of the extensive but sometimes hidden long-term effects of meningitis arise from the injury it causes to the brain.

  • Physical effects of brain injury from meningitis
    • cerebral palsy
    • impaired movement and coordination
      • difficulties with posture
      • impaired mobility, such as walking and running
      • impaired fine motor skills, such as writing or manipulating objects with the hands
      • problems with muscle tone, either too tight or too loose
      • difficulties with balance and coordination
      • dizziness
    • epilepsy, seizures (also known as convulsions or fits)
    • headaches and fatigue – from the brain injury itself or from anti-epileptic medication
    • hydrocephalus – a build up of the cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) around the brain, sometimes needing surgical insertion of a shunt
    • impaired bowel and bladder function or incontinence
  • Sensory effects
    • deafness or hearing loss
    • tinnitus
    • double vision
    • loss of vision – affecting visual fields and acuity (seeing at different distances)
    • problems with visual perception (understanding what is seen)
    • difficulty tracking and changing focus
    • difficulty coordinating information from both eyes
    • difficulty fixing on stationary objects quickly (affecting the ability to read)
    • impaired taste and smell -affecting eating habits and safety
    • inability to identify objects by touch
    • altered response to temperature or pain – affecting safety
  • Cognitive or learning effects
    • memory loss
    • problems with attention and concentration
    • difficulty planning and organising, such as the sequence of events needed to complete a task
    • difficulty initiating a task
    • difficulty with goal setting, affecting motivation and organisation
    • inability to self-monitor or control behaviour
    • difficulty with problem solving
    • inflexible thinking, affecting ability to adapt to changes in routine or meeting new people
  • Emotional or behavioural effects
    • tiredness leading to frustration and irritability
    • anger and aggression – from frustration or being unable to control behaviour
    • mood swings
    • anxiety and depression
    • loss of self confidence
    • lethargy and poor motivation (often misinterpreted as laziness)
    • social isolation
    • disinhibition or inappropriate behaviour
  • Effects on speech and language
    • aphasia – impaired production and understanding of speech
      • using words in the wrong order
      • needing to use non-verbal skills to communicate, such as pictures or gestures
      • using incorrect or made-up words,
      • difficulty recognising written letters, words or understanding simple sentences
      • reduced fluency of speech and vocabulary
      • understanding language but inability to use it
      • difficulty naming people and objects
      • difficulty with writing and spelling
    • dysarthria - impaired physical ability to speak or slurring
    • dyspraxia – affecting ability to say what they are thinking
    • difficulty processing information
    • difficulty with understanding social ‘rules of communication’ – affecting friendships

Boyes Turner’s specialist meningitis lawyers can help

Where a child or adult has been left with permanent disability as a result of delayed or incorrectly treated meningitis, our specialist meningitis lawyers can help the injured client and their family meet the extensive needs caused by the disability and rebuild their lives with the help of compensation.

Our skilled lawyers are highly experienced in recognising negligent medical treatment and obtaining liability judgments, substantial interim payments and compensation settlements which meet our clients’ long-term needs arising from their disability.

Our clients’ interim payments and settlements can then help them pay for:

  • Rehabilitation, therapies and counselling
  • Individually tailored prostheses
  • Specialist equipment, such as wheelchairs and adapted vehicles
  • Assistive technology
  • Care
  • Adaptations to accommodation
  • Support with special educational needs (SEN)
  • Vocational rehabilitation and retraining
  • Medical costs
  • Loss of earnings
  • Domestic help and assistance

Boyes Turner recently obtained:

  • an admission of liability, an apology and a substantial interim payment in an ongoing case for a client who needed amputations to her feet after an ambulance crew failed to take her to hospital for treatment of suspected meningitis
  • a £15 million (lifetime equivalent) settlement for a teenager with hearing loss and neurological disability caused by hospital failure to recognise and treat his early signs of meningitis.

If you or a member of your family have suffered serious injury as a result of negligent treatment of meningitis, contact us on 0118 952 7219 or email medneg@boyesturner.com

I really appreciated the friendly, efficient and supportive nature of the solicitor. 

I would also like to express my thanks to you for your dedication in chasing the defendant's insurance company especially where COVID-19 made an impact. 

Boyes Turner Client

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