Bacterial Meningitis in Children
Bacterial meningitis in children is a medical emergency. Every minute counts in getting antibiotic treatment to kill the bacteria that have invaded the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (called CSF or cerebrospinal fluid).
When treatment is delayed for whatever reason, children can die or suffer serious brain damage from bacterial meningitis. A careful legal review can be appropriate to see if pediatricians or emergency medical doctors followed the appropriate medical standards of care. If they did not, a lawsuit for medical malpractice may be justified. See our page on Meningitis and the slow use of antibiotics here.
Usually it is not OK to delay treatment while a CT scan of the head is done. Sometimes doctors will first want to do a lumbar puncture to pull out CSF fluid for testing, but even that test should not unduly delay antibiotic treatment.
Many times the problem with the medical care is the doctor assumed the patient had a benign condition and so didn’t look into the possibility of meningitis until it was too late.
The signs of bacterial meningitis in its early stages can be subtle.
- In children over age 2, common symptoms are high fever, headache, and stiff neck. These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take a day or two to develop. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion, and sleepiness. In advanced disease, bruises develop under the skin and spread quickly.
- In newborns and infants, the typical symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be hard to detect. Other signs in babies might be inactivity, irritability, vomiting, and poor feeding.
- As the disease progresses, patients of any age can have seizures.
The general rule is that earlier treatment produces better outcomes. That’s why treatment is started even before the doctor is absolutely sure this is bacterial meningitis, and before they know exactly what type of bug is involved (although the choice of antibiotic is often adjusted once test results do come back).
UpToDate.com publishes authoritative guides for both doctors and patients, which are regularly updated. Its article, “Treatment and prognosis of acute bacterial meningitis in children,” can be found here.
The Directors of Health Promotion and Education have a good fact sheet on bacterial meningitis here.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America has practice guidelines for bacterial meningitis. This is oriented to doctors but has good information for parents too.
Our attorneys have expertise in lawsuits involving bacterial meningitis. We provide free, confidential consultations for prospective clients.