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World Meningitis Day – Time to Act!

24th April 2017 is World Meningitis Day. Our partner charity, Meningitis Now, and other international members of the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations are calling on us all to use the day to raise global awareness of the disease. The theme for 2017 is  “24 hours – Time to Act!”

With meningitis affecting the lives of a million people worldwide, there has never been a more urgent need to support Meningitis Now in their efforts to raise awareness of the risks associated with this disabling and life threatening condition.

Awareness of the condition is only the first step towards reducing its impact. The increasing strain on GPs and NHS hospitals and the consequent government pressure on patients to delay seeking medical advice, as demonstrated by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s naive and controversial advice to parents to Google their child’s rash, means that education of the general public in how to recognise and react to the early signs of meningitis is vital – as is knowing how to ask for and insist upon appropriate treatment.

Recognise the signs

We should all be familiar with the idea of the classic meningococcal septicaemic rash – a pin-prick rash which can develop into purple bruising and which does not fade under pressure. The “glass  test” enables you to see whether the rash fades lightens or not as you press the side of a glass against the skin over the rash and look through it. If presented with this type of rash, call 999 as this is a medical emergency needing urgent medical help.

But for most of the sufferers of meningitis, it isn’t that simple. Other symptoms may come first, signalling the onset of the condition. They may appear in any sequence, and often do so without the rash which is an indicator of septicaemia, an advanced stage in the progression of some presentations of the disease. Once this happens, as demonstrated by many of the series of photographs that have recently been shown in the media, the deterioration towards permanent disability and death is rapid and overwhelming.

Any combination of the following symptoms, particularly where the patient is becoming increasingly ill, should alert us to the possibility of meningitis and the need to seek urgent medical help.

  • A high temperature or fever with cold hands and feet
  • Refusing food particularly in a baby or young child
  • Vomiting
  • A fretful baby, unhappy about being handled
  • In babies – a tense, bulging fontanelle – the soft spot on the baby’s head
  • Drowsy, sleepy, floppy, unresponsive, or difficult to wake
  • Rapid breathing or grunting
  • Pale blotchy skin, spots, a rash. If the side of a glass pressed firmly against the skin doesn’t cause the spots to lighten in colour this is a medical emergency – call 999
  • Unusual cry or moaning
  • Neck stiffness
  • Photophobia – discomfort in bright light
  • Convulsions/fits/seizures
  • Confusion or irritability
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe headache

On suspicion of meningitis a full examination, lumbar puncture and septic screen (blood test) should be carried out in hospital to determine whether the patient is suffering from bacterial meningitis. Intravenous antibiotic treatment should be commenced within an hour.

The difficulty lies in the speed with which the condition takes hold, progressing from symptoms which might ordinarily be associated with a cold or flu to a disabling and life-threatening condition within a matter of hours. In its early stages, when antibiotic treatment is most effective, without the necessary awareness and proper diagnostic tests the symptoms can be deceptive. Any delay in starting treatment gives an already fast-acting disease greater opportunity to take hold. Its impact can be devastating.

Boyes Turner’s experienced medical negligence solicitors have acted for many clients who have been severely disabled as a result of negligent delays in medical treatment of meningitis by their GP or hospital staff.

In a recent case, we secured judgment for a baby boy whose signs of meningitis – including a persistent high temperature, vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions and a rash – were missed by hospital staff leading to a delay in his antibiotic treatment. He now suffers from hearing loss, learning difficulties and problems with language and communication as a result of the delay in treating his meningitis.

In another recent case we acted for a young girl whose signs of group B streptococcal meningitis –  including a persistent high temperature which didn’t respond to paracetamol and refusal to feed – were misinterpreted by hospital doctors when she was a baby. The delay in antibiotic treatment led to permanent damage to her brain. She now suffers from quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

Know the risks

Meningitis can affect anyone at any time but certain people are at greater risk:

  • Babies and toddlers under the age of 5 have the highest risk of meningitis because their immune systems are not yet sufficiently developed to protect them against the disease
  • Teenagers and students are also at higher risk. They are particularly vulnerable when going off to university where they are in close contact with people from different backgrounds, living away from home and looking after themselves for the first time. Without their parents’ supervision, they may confuse meningitis symptoms with flu, hangover or tiredness
  • Adults over 55 or those with weakened immune systems are also at higher risk

Know the symptoms and ensure that your loved ones do too

  • Keep a signs and symptoms card – available from Meningitis Now – in your purse or wallet and give one to your teenage child
  • Ensure that your teenage child or student is registered with a GP at university and keeps their contact number handy
  • Download Meningitis Now’s free information app for your/their phone
  • Encourage your child to ask for help if worried about their own or a friend’s health
  • Encourage teenagers to have the Men ACWY vaccination – all students and older school children should be offered the vaccination if registered with a GP
  • Remember that vaccinations are not available for all strains of meningitis so vigilance is essential, even after vaccination

If you suspect that you or a member of your family have the symptoms of meningitis, don’t delay. Seek urgent medical help. It’s time to act!

If you are caring for a family member who has been disabled by medical negligence, call us 0800 307 7620 or email [email protected].

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought. This news story comes from publicly available sources. Where it concerns one or more of our clients this is clearly stated.

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