We’ve previously blogged about delayed diagnosis and medical malpractice as well as misdiagnosis and medical malpractice and how delayed or missed diagnosis (or misdiagnosis) can have a devastating impact on a patient’s life. This week we explore a situation in which a failure to diagnose meningitis led to the recent death of a 24-year old Ottawa woman.
The woman’s symptoms began on the evening of June 25, when she complained to her mother than she had a stiff neck and felt “really horrible”. The mother gave the woman some Advil and told her to try to get some sleep.
Within a few hours, by 4 a.m., the woman came into the mother’s bedroom in distress complaining of a sore throat, headache, and inability to move her neck. Her temperature was 105.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The woman’s father rushed her to the hospital.
She returned home within a few hours, with doctors having told her that she probably had Strep throat or mononucleosis, but that they were not sure what it was. They gave her a prescription for penicillin, an antibiotic.
Over the course of the same day, the woman’s condition worsened. When she attempted to take the prescribed antibiotic she began to vomit and could not keep anything in her system. Her temperature remained above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, an amount that generally indicates fever from infection or illness.
The woman was rushed back to hospital around 5 p.m after she took a bath in an attempt to cool down, and began “screaming” about the pain in her neck. During this second trip to the E.R. her skin was white, lips were turning blue and she was complaining about pain while breathing. She was given I.V. antibiotics, fluid, and was eventually intubated to assist in respiration.
“Very Strong Virus” and “Very Highly Infectious Disease”
The mother claims that at this time, doctors told her that the woman had a “very strong virus”, and again that it could be Strep or mono, but that they did not know for certain.
The mother says she inquired about the possibility of the woman having meningitis, but was told that her symptoms “were not the symptoms” of meningitis and that she been given a very broad spectrum of antibiotics for everything that this could possibly be.
The mother says that eventually a doctor told her that the woman had a “very highly infectious disease” and that she looked septic, but that physicians still did not know what it was.
The woman eventually died at 3 a.m. the next morning, June 27, roughly 24 hours after she was initially released from the E.R. after her first visit.
It was not until after her death that bacterial meningitis was confirmed as the cause of her symptoms and death.
The mother describes her experience as “a nightmare”, telling the Canadian Press:
I couldn’t believe I was talking to her the day before and she was lying there dead.
Since the woman’s death, public health officials in Ottawa have vaccinated her family members against meningitis and treated them with antibiotics in case they were infected. None of them have become ill. Officials also requested a list of individuals the woman would have come into contact with in the seven days preceding her illness in an attempt to trace the source of the infection.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges (the three membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord). The most common cause of meningitis is viral infection, but it can also be caused by bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections.
Meningitis can be spread through saliva (via kissing, sharing drinks, food, cigarettes, etc.). It can be more common in younger people, who are more likely to share food and drinks.
Certain types of meningitis can be life-threatening and requires emergency antibiotic treatment. Delayed treatment increases the risk of permanent brain damage or death.
The swelling from meningitis generally triggers identifiable symptoms. Early meningitis symptoms can sometimes mimic flu symptoms. Effects may develop and manifest over several hours or several days.
Possible signs and symptoms of meningitis in individuals older than the age of 2 can include:
- Severe headache (different than normal)
- Sudden high fever
- Stiff neck
- Headache with nausea or vomiting
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Sleepiness or difficulty waking
- Sensitivity to light
- No appetite or thirst
- Skin rash
In Ontario, infants are routinely vaccinated against meningococcal disease, and a separate vaccine is also given to students in Grade 7.
Misdiagnosis and Medical Malpractice
If you believe you or a loved one were misdiagnosed or there was a delay in diagnosis, and you have suffered injuries or there was a death as a result, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim against the treating physicians and/or the hospital.
If you have questions about the medical care you received, or if you suspect that you were misdiagnosed or incorrectly diagnosed, contact the respected and highly knowledgeable Toronto medical malpractice lawyers at Sommers Roth & Elmaleh.
We have been representing patients and families affected by misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose for many years. We work with medical professionals and other experts to carefully review your medical records to establish error or negligence on the part of a physician or other medical professional. We also provide trusted and compassionate guidance to our clients throughout the process of pursuing their claim.
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