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Undiagnosed Meningitis: is awareness improving?


    World Meningitis Day 2013 is on 24th April and meningitis charities and research foundations are calling for increased awareness and education about meningitis. A recent tragic case, involving the death of a 3 year old girl, has also brought the issue of undiagnosed meningitis infections back into the public domain, and whether awareness is improving.

    By Kerstin Kubiak

Chloe Cain from Nottingham was ill for days and her mother was so concerned she brought her to the family’s GP, who diagnosed infection with the flu. The next day Chloe was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with a rarer form of cryptococcal meningitis. Chloe very sadly died a week later. Chloe’s mother now feels there was GP negligence in failing to refer her daughter to hospital earlier.

In March 2013 the Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK announced their intention to merge into one charity. They stated that “The merged charity will still deliver the priorities of the Meningitis Trust and Meningitis UK – preventative research and lifelong support – whilst strengthening the impact they have in life-saving education and awareness work.”

Increasing awareness:

The UK is highlighted as one of the top three meningitis hotspots in Europe, and there is a general public view that some vaccinations for meningitis protect children against all forms of meningitis, which is incorrect. With a view to increasing awareness and taking into account the increasing use of mobile phone and tablet apps, the Meningitis Trust have produced an app specifically to make the public aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis in an easily accessible way. It was reported that one mother used the app when her child became ill and she suspected meningitis. Within 20 minutes of using the app her child was admitted to hospital and meningitis diagnosed.

As well as increasing public awareness of meningitis is it also vital that all medical staff are aware of the warning signs and symptoms, and the need to act quickly when meningitis is suspected because of the potentially significant consequences of undiagnosed meningitis.

Consequences of undiagnosed meningitis:

Meningitis infection can be a cause of cerebral palsy as the infection attacks the lining of the brain, causing inflammation and damage. An example of this was recently reported by Wales Online in respect of a young girl who developed cerebral palsy and later died following an undiagnosed meningitis infection when she was 9 months old; her parents successfully sued the NHS Hospital in Wales for negligence, as they originally diagnosed her with tonsillitis and she was discharged home, only then to be rushed back to a different hospital the following day when meningitis was diagnosed.

Sadly these cases are not a rarity and there are still all too many cases reported every year by the victims or parents of those affected by meningitis where the opportunity to diagnose and treat the disease so as to have avoided death or injury has been lost. It is not uncommon for those affected to consider suing a Doctor or suing the NHS if they feel there was negligent medical care provided and should consult a specialist medical negligence solicitor.

It is hoped that the excellent work done by the meningitis charities can continue to raise public and medical awareness so that both the rates of meningitis contracted decrease, but more importantly for it to be diagnosed sooner and avoid the significant harm it can cause.

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