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Meningitis is an infection that affects the membranes around the brain and spinal cord and if diagnosis is missed or delayed, the consequences can be very serious, even fatal. Anyone can get meningitis, but those at greatest risk are babies and children under five. If you or someone you know have suffered from meningitis and you feel medical professionals failed to spot the symptoms quickly enough, you may be able to make a claim for compensation. The solicitors at JMW are expert in brain injuries and can guide you through the process, providing all of the assistance you need.
Contact us today for free initial advice on taking legal action. We know it can seem daunting to make a claim, but we are here to make the process as simple and straightforward as possible. Call us on 0800 054 6512 or, if you would prefer for us to contact you, simply fill in our online enquiry form and we will get back to you as soon as we can.
The term meningitis refers to inflammation of the covering and lining of the brain and is caused by either a bacterial or viral infection. Bacterial meningitis is generally much more serious than viral meningitis and without appropriate antibiotic therapy is almost always fatal. However, the incidence of bacterial meningitis is rapidly reducing due to the widespread use of the Hib and meningococcus vaccines.
The bacteria responsible for the condition reach the brain by spreading through the bloodstream from an initial site of infection, commonly the nose or throat. Almost all bacterial meningitis is caused by just three bacteria:
Each of these are commonly found in the nose and throat of entirely healthy people and, for reasons that are not fully understood, occasionally get into the bloodstream.
If the body's own defences do not stop the infection at this point, septicaemia (blood poisoning) can occur. This is potentially very dangerous and the toxins produced by the bacteria can do a great deal of damage to organs and tissues. If the infection reaches the brain, this causes meningitis. If it is not diagnosed quickly and treated correctly it can lead to lasting damage and even death.
Young children are at particular risk of meningitis because they will not have encountered the bacteria before and will therefore have no immunity to them. In the first days and weeks of life, and when immune defences are immature, the risk of meningitis is higher than at any other age. However, at this age the bacteria usually responsible are streptococcus B, E. coli and Listeria. These are all commonly found in the mother's lower bowel and birth canal.
There are various symptoms of meningitis in babies and young children and it is important to remember that not every baby will display every symptom, and they can appear in any order. They include:
- High fever, but with cold hands and feet
- Drowsiness and being unresponsive
- Rapid breathing or grunting
- Unwillingness to feed
- Unwillingness to be picked up
- Blotchy skin and a red rash that does not fade if you roll a glass over it
- Seizures or convulsions
- Stiff neck
- A tense soft spot on the head
In young infants it is often very hard to distinguish from other, less serious conditions. Part of the reason for this is that many of the tell-tale features of the disease are symptoms rather than visible signs, and a small baby cannot tell anyone that they have a headache or are distressed by the light. Also, vomiting in babies is so common that it is often not seen as significant.
Because it is so difficult to diagnose in a young infant and because a delay in diagnosis can have such catastrophic effects, the possibility of meningitis should never be dismissed when a baby falls ill.
As with the symptoms for babies and young children, these symptoms can appear in any order and may not affect every sufferer. They include:
- Fever, but with cold hands and feet
- Irritability and confusion
- Distinctive rash
- Muscle pains
In more advanced cases, extreme drowsiness can progress to a coma. There may also be abdominal and muscle pain, as well as a rash. This rash consists of tiny red or brown pin-prick spots that do not fade when pressed firmly with a glass tumbler.
In instances where a rash is present - which is comprised of small 'pin pricks' that later turn into purple bruising - the glass test can be used to tell if a person has meningitis. It is performed by pressing the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin. If the rash does not fade it is a sign of meningococcal septicaemia.
If this occurs you should seek medical help immediately as it is considered a medical emergency.
Claiming compensation for meningitis clinical negligence is a specialist area of law that requires solicitors who have specific training and experience in making these types of claim. JMW has one of the most respected medical negligence teams in the UK.
Led by highly regarded clinical negligence solicitor Eddie Jones, our team includes members of the Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) solicitors' panel and the Law Society's specialist panel for clinical negligence.
We are happy to offer free initial advice and will deal with your enquiry without any obligation for you to take matters further. Where appropriate, we can deal with cases using public funding (formerly Legal Aid) or provide a no win, no fee service.