Bacterial meningitis is a serious illness. Each year in the United States it kills roughly 500 people and threatens the lives of 3,600 more. While people of any age are at risk, infants have a higher risk of contracting bacterial meningitis than all other age groups.

What Causes Bacterial Meningitis in Infants?

Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes covering the spinal cord and the brain (the meninges) caused by the presence of bacteria. The bacteria originate in some other part of the body, are spread by the bloodstream to the fluid around the spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid) and from there to the meninges.

The bacteria that cause meningitis are usually those associated with common illnesses. Sometimes, the bacteria travels to the meninges because of head trauma or a severe localized infection, such as a major ear or sinus infection. Bacterial meningitis must be dealt with swiftly, so it is important that doctors recognize it right away, especially in infants.

What are the Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis in Infants?

Because the symptoms of meningitis are similar to those of the flu, it is sometimes misdiagnosed. If a doctor misdiagnoses bacterial meningitis, the consequences are often very serious. Infants with bacterial meningitis may have the same symptoms as those seen in children and adults (fever, lethargy, irritability and other flu-like symptoms) or they may experience symptoms unique to infants:

  • Body and neck stiffness
  • Poor feeding and a weak suck
  • Jaundice
  • Low body temperature
  • Bulging in the soft spot of the baby's head

It is important that doctors, when treating infants, know to look for and recognize these symptoms.

How is Bacterial Meningitis Diagnosed in Infants?

If an infant is suspected to have bacterial meningitis, blood and/or spinal fluid samples are required to make a diagnosis. Spinal fluid is typically extracted by means of a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). The blood and fluid samples will be tested for signs of inflammation in the membranes covering the spinal cord as well as for bacteria.

What are Complications of Bacterial Meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis can cause serious complications, some of which may be due to improper treatment. Common complications include:

  • Vision problems
  • Heart issues
  • Hearing problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Seizures

These complications may be short term or long term. When an infant's bacterial meningitis-related complications are long term or permanent, it is possible that poor or delayed treatment of the child is to blame.

If your infant child was harmed as a result of a doctor's failure to diagnose or adequately treat bacterial meningitis, you may have a legal cause of action against the doctor. Contact a medical malpractice attorney to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.