Experienced Cleveland Medical Malpractice Attorneys Recover Compensation for Neonatal Meningitis and Herpes Encephalitis
Failure to follow routine procedures can have devastating consequences
More than 30% of pregnant women in the U.S. carry the strain of herpes simplex virus (HSV) that causes genital herpes (HSV-2). In addition to serious complications during pregnancy — including premature rupture of the membranes and preterm birth — a mother can transmit HSV-2 to her child during delivery. If left untreated, HSV-2 can lead to neonatal herpes encephalitis, meningitis, brain damage and cerebral palsy. Thus, doctors regularly screen pregnant women for HSV-2, monitor and manage maternal HSV-2 infections during pregnancy and childbirth, and monitor and treat newborns for such infections.
The failure to follow these practices or treat an infant with an infection promptly after birth could constitute negligence and lead to medical malpractice if injuries result. If your child developed encephalitis and/or meningitis during birth, the skilled Ohio medical malpractice attorneys at The Eisen Law Firm can determine if you are entitled to compensation.
What causes neonatal encephalitis/meningitis?
HSV-2 causes 70-90% of encephalitis cases in infants, most of which stem from exposure to HSV-2 in genital secretions during delivery. Mothers with a first time (primary) HSV infection — either HSV-2 or HSV-1 (the strain that causes cold sores) — have an approximately 50% chance of transmitting the virus to their babies during a vaginal delivery and are 10-30 times more likely to infect their babies than women who have experienced recurrent HSV infections.
What happens if I transmit HSV-2 to my baby?
HSV manifests as skin, eyes and mouth herpes (SEM), disseminated herpes (DIS) and/or central nervous system herpes (CNS), often with two or more types overlapping. Encephalitis is an infection or inflammation of the brain, while meningitis is an infection or inflammation of the layers of thin tissue that cover the brain. These can occur together, and both are medical emergencies, as symptoms can appear suddenly and the virus can progress rapidly. Left untreated, death occurs within 10–14 days.
How the virus affects an infant depends on what type of infection is involved:
- The overall mortality rate for neonatal HSV-2 encephalitis is 15-57%;
- The CNS form is lethal in about 6% of cases, and leaves approximately 69% of babies with permanent disabilities; and
- A DIS infection is lethal in 31% of cases, and leaves approximately 17% of babies with permanent disabilities.
Babies that survive often experience long-term or permanent injuries, including:
- Brain damage
- Cognitive impairments — hearing and/or speech loss or blindness
- Cerebral palsy
- Edema (fluid buildup in the brain)
- Brain abscesses (pus-filled pockets)
- Developmental delays
- Seizure disorders
- Learning disabilities
Signs and symptoms of neonatal encephalitis and meningitis
Symptoms of encephalitis and meningitis usually appear 4-11 days after birth and may include:
- Poor feeding
- Body stiffness
- Unexplained or unusual irritability
- Full or bulging fontanel (soft spot on the top of the head)
A disseminated infection also includes constitutional signs, such as shock, jaundice, gastrointestinal bleeding and a characteristic vesicular rash in 50-60% of patients.
Treatment of encephalitis and meningitis
Early diagnosis is vital, especially in cases of disseminated infections, which have a poor prognosis and high mortality. Doctors treat babies with suspected or diagnosed HSV with intravenous acyclovir for 14 days in the case of a SEM HSV infection, and 21 days for a CNS or disseminated infection.
Required precautionary measures related to encephalitis and meningitis
It is standard practice for doctors to screen pregnant women for HSV by taking a thorough history, including questions regarding HSV infections and other risk factors. Where risk factors are present, doctors should test the mother for HSV and, if she tests positive, take certain measures to minimize the risk of spreading the infection to her baby. Doctors should monitor babies at risk of HSV infection after delivery and promptly test and treat for the infection.
A doctor who fails to follow any of the standard practices related to HSV is negligent and may be held liable if such medical negligence injures a baby or mother. If your child contracted HSV during delivery and suffered from encephalitis and/or meningitis, he may be the victim of medical negligence.
Contact leading Ohio medical malpractice lawyers today to schedule a free consultation
The Cleveland medical malpractice attorneys at The Eisen Law Firm will review your situation to determine whether your doctor followed the appropriate protocols and, if appropriate, will seek to obtain compensation for your child’s injury. Schedule your free initial consultation by calling us at 216-687-0900 or contact us online. We serve clients in Cleveland, Lorain, Columbus, Toledo, Akron and throughout Ohio.