How Do You Get Meningitis?


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In the United States, at least 15,000 cases of meningitis are reported every year. Annually, more than 500 people die from one of the most common types of meningitis (bacterial), and the true number of deaths is higher when all causes of meningitis are taken into account.

Each type of meningitis has its own mortality rate ranging from less than 1 percent to as high as 95 percent. Survivors can be left with permanent hearing loss, epilepsy, and concentration, memory, movement, and balance problems. Quickly determining the cause of a case of meningitis is essential to providing effective treatment.

What Is Meningitis?

While we tend to think of meningitis as a disease in and of itself, it’s typically just a symptom of another problem. Meningitis occurs when the meninges (the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord) become inflamed. Several things can cause this inflammation, but the symptoms tend to be the same no matter the underlying cause. 

While the outward symptoms may be the same, the treatment for each type of meningitis can be radically different. There are vaccines that may prevent some of the most common types of meningitis, and there are treatment options for many of the underlying causes. A case of meningitis can progress quickly, so it’s essential to seek medical attention as soon as symptoms start. Doing so will increase the chance of survival and minimize the risk of permanent damage to the brain.

What Can Cause Meningitis?

After identifying a case of meningitis, the most important step is to determine what’s causing it. The cause of the inflammation (usually some sort of infection) must be determined before the appropriate treatment can start. How quickly this can be done often means the difference between death or lifelong disability and a healthy recovery. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, recognizes five different types of meningitis: bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic (or amebic), and non-infectious. 

  • Bacterial Meningitis:
    • This is what most people think of when they hear “meningitis.”
    • Affects almost 4,100 Americans each year and causes around 500 deaths.
    • If not treated early enough, the mortality rate can be up to 50 percent.
    • Passed from person to person.
    • Vaccines that protect against some forms of bacterial meningitis are available.
  • Viral Meningitis:
    • Tend to be milder and often resolve on their own in healthy immune systems.
    • More than 10,000 cases are reported annually, but it’s estimated that the actual number may be closer to 75,000 when factoring in cases that can’t be confirmed and instances that resolve on their own without treatment.
    • Spread from person to person.
    • Vaccines are available to prevent some kinds of viral meningitis.
  • Fungal Meningitis:
    • Typically very rare.
    • The mortality rate can vary between 5-40 percent depending on the type of fungus involved and the underlying health of the infected individual.
    • A deadly outbreak made national news in 2012 when it was discovered that contaminated steroid injections made at a compounding center in Massachusetts were responsible for 753 fungal meningitis cases, resulting in 64 deaths across 20 states.
  • Parasitic Meningitis:
    • Very rare, caused by parasites or amebas that make their way into the brain or nervous system via the nose or, rarely, the digestive tract.
    • Not contagious, but usually occur as a result of contact with stagnant water, dirt, feces, or raw fish, poultry, or produce.
    • The most well-known kind is also known as PAM (primary amebic meningoencephalitis) and is caused by an ameba called Naegleria fowleri, known colloquially as the “brain-eating bacteria.”
    • Few effective treatment options are available at this time.
    • Almost always fatal, with mortality approaching 95 percent within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms.
  • Non-Infectious Meningitis:
    • Can be caused by cancer, lupus, some medications, head injuries, and brain surgery.

I Have Symptoms Of Meningitis. What Should I Do?

Meningitis can go from asymptomatic to death within a matter of hours in many cases, so it’s essential to recognize warning signs and get medical help as soon as possible. The classic symptoms are:

  • fever
  • headache
  • stiff neck
  • nausea/vomiting
  • sensitivity to light
  • confusion

If you notice these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, seek medical help immediately to confirm a diagnosis and determine the cause of your meningitis. Once the cause is known, then treatment (if one is available) can be initiated. Early diagnosis and treatment are the most effective way to improve outcomes by reducing the death rate and by reducing the risk of permanent brain damage that a meningitis episode can cause.

Meningitis Resulted In The Death Or Permanent Disability Of A Loved One. What Now?

If you or your loved one have been affected by meningitis, it’s essential to determine whether anything different could have been done. It can be challenging to uncover this information on your own, but a good legal team familiar with meningitis cases can determine if a different action on the part of a hospital or doctor may have changed the outcome. If the wrong tests were performed, an incorrect treatment was given, or treatment was delayed without a medically valid reason, you and your family deserve compensation for the medical bills, physical and emotional pain that the negligence has brought to you and your family. 

Why Choose Ross Feller Casey?

The legal team at Ross Feller Casey has an unmatched record of success in all types of medical malpractice cases, including numerous multimillion-dollar recoveries in meningitis lawsuits.

With an Ivy League-trained team of doctor-lawyers on staff, we understand how complicated meningitis cases can be. If your case was at all mismanaged and resulted in death or severe injury, contact us today for a free consultation. We work on a contingency basis, so there’s no cost until we win. We’re ready to help you get the compensation you and your loved ones deserve if negligence contributed to your meningitis diagnosis or complication.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.