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