Can Medical Malpractice Cause Neonatal HSV Meningoencephalitis?


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Meningoencephalitis is an inflammation of the brain and the protective membranes surrounding it. It is similar to both encephalitis and meningitis. Meningoencephalitis can result from viruses, bacteria, fungi, or protozoans. However, it is commonly caused by herpes simplex viruses type 1 and 2, called HSV meningoencephalitis or herpes meningoencephalitis. Herpes is a contagious infection spread through person-to-person contact, sexual intercourse, or mother-to-child during childbirth.

Herpes simplex virus causes many cases of encephalitis in newborns, most of which stem from exposure to the virus in genital secretions during delivery. Mothers with a first-time HSV infection, type 1 or 2, are highly likely to spread the virus to their babies during a vaginal delivery.

There is a significant risk of spreading the virus in mothers who have experienced recurrent HSV infections or outbreaks.

What Happens When A Mother Transmits HSV2 To Her Baby?

Herpes simplex virus will manifest as skin, eyes, and mouth herpes (SEM), central nervous system herpes (CNS), or disseminated herpes (DIS). Frequently, two or more of these types overlap. HSV can lead to encephalitis, an inflammation or infection of the brain, and meningitis, an infection or inflammation of the thin tissue membranes that cover the brain. These two infections can occur together and are considered medical emergencies. If not treated promptly and properly, death or significant brain damage will likely occur.

What Are The Symptoms Of Neonatal Meningoencephalitis?

The symptoms of meningitis and encephalitis typically appear in infants soon after they are born and may include:

  • Poor feeding
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Body stiffness
  • Bulging or full soft spot on top of the head (fontanel)
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Some newborns also experience constitutional signs or symptoms, like jaundice, shock, gastrointestinal bleeding, and a vesicular or blistering rash.

What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Herpes Meningoencephalitis?

With prompt diagnosis and proper treatment, most people with herpes meningoencephalitis start to improve within a few days and fully within a month or so. However, serious complications, even death, can occur without prompt treatment.

Newborns with severe HSV meningoencephalitis can suffer long-term complications, including permanent brain damage, difficulty thinking, developmental delays, trouble with balance, coordination, and motor skills, hearing loss, speaking loss, blindness, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, edema, brain abscesses, and they may require long-term medication and care.

What Is Required Of Doctors Regarding Encephalitis And Meningitis?

All doctors must provide their patients with an accepted standard of care. For pregnant women, that includes doctors screening them for HSV by obtaining a thorough medical history, including questions regarding HSV infections and other risk factors. Doctors should test the pregnant patient for HSV if certain risk factors are present. If she does have HSV, the doctor must take specific measures to decrease the risk of spreading the infection to her baby. Additionally, doctors should closely monitor babies at risk of HSV infection after delivery, test for the infection, and treat it if necessary, including potentially administering acyclovir to prevent the baby from contracting HSV.

If a doctor fails to follow the standard practices or violates the standard of care related to HSV, it may be considered negligence. The doctor can then be held liable for injuries to the newborn or the mother.

If your baby contracted HSV during childbirth and suffered from encephalitis and/or meningitis, you should contact a medical malpractice attorney immediately.

Ross Feller Casey Helps With Neonatal HSV Meningoencephalitis Lawsuits In PA

If your baby had neonatal HSV meningoencephalitis and suffered injuries, the birth injury lawyers at Ross Feller Casey can help. One of our Pennsylvania attorneys will discuss what your next steps should be at no cost to you. Our consultations are always free. If we determine that medical malpractice occurred and that your baby suffered injuries, we may proceed with a claim.

Raising a child with long-term or permanent injuries can cause financial burdens that no parent should face. However, compensation from this type of birth injury case can help with medical expenses and provide your family with peace of mind and financial security for the future.

At Ross Feller Casey, we have a track record of winning large multimillion-dollar settlements and verdicts for clients like you who have sustained catastrophic injuries in their families due to medical malpractice. Let us help your family. Contact our office today to schedule your appointment.

About the Author

Dr. Matthew H. H. Young is a nationally recognized Harvard-educated physician and attorney whose practice focuses on catastrophic injuries caused by medical malpractice.

Matt Young

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