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Neonatal meningitis claims
Children who have suffered meningitis, and their families, often need a range of ongoing physical, therapeutic and psychological support. We are able to assist families in ensuring the best possible care for their child through our claims, court of protection and special educational needs teams.
What is meningitis?
Meningitis literally means inflammation of the ‘meninges’ – the layers of membranes which surround the brain and protect it from infection. Meningitis may occur at the same time as the severe blood infection, septicaemia.
Meningitis occurs when the infective organism overwhelms the body’s defences, spreading through the bloodstream into the meninges and breaking through into the cerebrospinal fluid. As the meninges become inflamed, they swell, causing pressure and damage to the brain and nerves. When septicaemia is also present, the bacteria release toxins into the bloodstream, causing injury to the whole body.
What is neonatal meningitis?
Neonatal meningitis refers to meningitis which occurs during the first 28 days of a baby’s life. This serious condition can be caused by different bacteria, viruses or fungi, but in newborn babies, it is most commonly caused by group B streptococcus (GBS) or E.coli bacterial infection.
If the infection develops within the first six days of life, it is known as early-onset neonatal meningitis and is probably caused by an infection passed from mother to baby during pregnancy or birth. Late-onset neonatal meningitis develops between the sixth and 28th day and is usually caused by the baby being exposed to infection in some other way. In rare cases, the infection can develop in older babies.
Can neonatal meningitis be prevented?
It is currently not possible to vaccinate against group B strep (GBS), E. coli or listeria, the most common causes of neonatal meningitis.
Pregnant women who are known to carry GBS, and newborn babies who are thought to be at risk of GBS, should be carefully monitored, and the baby treated urgently with antibiotics in hospital if signs of infection develop.
What are the signs and symptoms of neonatal meningitis and septicaemia?
Signs and symptoms of meningitis may not be easily recognisable in a newborn or very small baby. Early symptoms are non-specific and may be mistaken for mild illness. ‘Classic’ signs, such as the rash or fever, may not be present in the early stages and many of the signs may not be present at all. If a child is suspected to be unwell with meningitis, it is essential that urgent medical attention is sought, as any delays in investigation and antibiotic treatment can lead to serious complications.
Signs and symptoms of meningitis may include any one or more of the following, in any order:
- high temperature (fever) with cold hands and feet;
- reluctance to feed;
- vomiting and/or diarrhoea;
- floppy, unresponsive or difficult to wake;
- irritable or dislikes being handled;
- grunting or difficulty breathing;
- abnormally fast or slow breathing rate;
- pale or blotchy skin;
- red or purple spots or a rash which does not fade under pressure;
- unusual cry – high pitched, moaning or whimpering;
- bulging fontanelle (the soft spot on top of the newborn’s head)
- swollen tummy;
- arched back;
- convulsions or seizures (fits);
- not passing urine – nappies are dry.
What is the treatment for neonatal meningitis?
Neonatal meningitis must be treated in hospital with antibiotics as a matter of urgency.
What are the after effects of neonatal meningitis?
Meningitis is life-threatening but with prompt action, it can often be treated. When a baby has meningitis, swift action is needed to admit the baby to hospital and begin antibiotic treatment within one hour of diagnosis. With prompt treatment, many babies make a good recovery.
Where the infection has already caused permanent damage to the brain and nerves by the time treatment takes place, the child may be left with permanent disability, such as:
- hearing loss;
- blindness or visual impairment;
- brain damage;
- learning disability;
- problems with speech.
If septicaemia was present and caused permanent damage to blood vessels and organs, the after-effects might also include:
- organ damage;
- loss of digits or limbs.
I try to assist lawyers by explaining, in clear and comprehensible terms, what the relevant issues are and where the strengths and weaknesses of the case lie.
DR PETER DEAR