How meningitis can lead to avoidable amputations
13th January, 2023
Article

Meningitis is an infection which the NHS says infects the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can affect anyone, but is most common in babies, young children and young adults. It can be a very serious infection if not treated quickly. 

The NHS also advises that meningitis can become life-threatening through blood poisoning (known as sepsis) which could therefore result in brain and nerve damage. There are vaccinations that you can take to ensure that you have a level of protection against the infection. 

 

Signs of meningitis: What to watch out for 

 

Charity Meningitis Now says that the following are early signs of infection: 

  • Fever 
  • Headache  
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Stomach cramps 
  • Fever with cold hands and feet 

They also outline more specific signs and symptoms for different age groups: 

 

The link between meningitis & amputation 

 

Meningitis can sometimes lead to amputations of fingers, toes and limbs if you have suffered severe cases of meningococcal septicaemia (also referred to as sepsis).  

The Meningitis Research Foundation says that septicaemia is poisoning of the blood as a result of large numbers of bacteria multiplying in the blood. In response to this, the body attempts to fight the multiplying bacteria as well as defend itself against the toxins which are produced by the bacteria, resulting in illness. 

The risk of amputation due to meningococcal septicaemia, when the toxins released by the bacteria begin to attack your blood vessels. This in turn starts to leak and causes a rash of septicaemia, which has the potential to develop into large patches of purple skin. While this is happening, blood clots can also form, making it harder to supply oxygen to your body. 

In response to this, your body reduces the amount of blood which is supplied to other parts of your body ensuring the correct supply is sent to your vital organs. When your skin loses its supply of blood, it is starved of oxygen which can cause it to blacken and die. 

Areas most affected by this are fingers, hands, toes and feet as these are the furthest parts of the body blood must travel, and in severe cases limbs will need to be amputated as a result. 

According to the NHS amputation many be required in order to prevent the meningitis spreading through the body and to remove the damaged tissue. 

 

Can meningitis amputations be avoided? 

 

As previously mentioned, there are vaccinations that you can take to ensure that you are as protected as possible against the infection, although this does not guarantee full immunity from it.  

The NHS also has other methods of treating meningitis and preventing it from spreading through your body. Some hospital treatments include: 

  • Steroid medication to reduce swelling 
  • You may also be offered oxygen if you have breathing difficulties 

Antibiotics may be provided prior to a diagnosis of meningitis, given the severity of the risks the infection poses. 

Looking forward – can amputations through meningitis be avoided?  

In recent years, there has been some encouragement through research that meningitis amputations could potentially be avoided in the future. In an article from the Meningitis Research Foundation in 2018 there was the suggestion that scientists researching the infection had discovered a ‘trigger’ that can lead to the amputations and deaths of meningitis patients. It is believed that this discovery may be the first step into finding a treatment which could in the future prevent such awful outcomes for patients. 

 

Amputation negligence 

If you or your child has suffered an amputation through meningitis which could have been avoided, our medical negligence experts are here to help. We have supported hundreds of individuals through similar circumstances, including a current case where we have initially secured a £1.4 million compensation payment, after our client suffered a negligent meningitis amputation at the age of 6, they are now aged 22. The case is expected to be worth £12 million. 

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