Newborn and Infant Encephalitis Injury Lawyers
Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain, which occurs most often in newborns as a result of exposure to a virus. When that virus is herpes simplex, as it often is, the results can be devastating.
Untreated herpes encephalitis has a one-year mortality rate approaching 50 percent, but treating an infant after the disease is contracted isn’t foolproof — one study showed that only 32 percent of newborns with treated encephalitis hit normal developmental milestones by age 2. Nonetheless, survival rates in infants given antiviral therapy is close to 96 percent.
Symptoms are often confused with those of other conditions, which is one way that medical malpractice can rear its head in encephalitis cases. In other cases, careful screening might have prevented transmission of the mother’s viral infection before birth. Such preventative measures are especially important in infant herpes encephalitis — half of all cases don’t manifest in lesions, making careful diagnostic work that much more important.
How is Encephalitis Caused?
Encephalitis in infants is caused by exposure to a virus. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) accounts for the greatest number of cases, but other viruses may also be at fault:
- Other herpes viruses
- Mosquito-borne viruses
- Tick-borne viruses
HSV exposure most often happens during childbirth, through contact with the mother’s genital tract. Such exposure is usually preventable through careful screening and C-section. In other cases, in utero and postnatal infections can occur.
Before childbirth, standard practice should include screening pregnant women for HSV by taking a thorough history which includes questions regarding HSV infections and other risk factors. If the history indicates, the mother should be tested for HSV — and if she tests positive, certain measures should be employed to minimize the risk of spreading the infection to her baby.
Mild encephalitis with reversible legion in the splenium. Source: Wikipedia
Doctors should monitor babies at risk of HSV infection after delivery and promptly test and treat for the infection.
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of encephalitis in newborns often manifest within 4–11 days of birth. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms may include:
- Mild flu-like symptoms such as fever and aches
- Bulging in the soft part (fontanelle) of the skull
- Nausea and vomiting
- Body stiffness
- Poor feeding or not waking for a feeding
Normal fontanelle in a one-month-old infant. Source: Wikipedia
The viral infection may also affect other areas of the body. Such a disseminated infection may also show constitutional effects like:
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Vesicular rash
The Dangers of Infant Encephalitis
Infant encephalitis often results in the following long-term or permanent injuries:
- Brain damage
- Cognitive impairments
- Cerebral palsy
- Developmental delays
- Seizure disorders
- Learning disabilities
How to Know if Medical Negligence is Responsible for Your Infant’s Injury
Inadequate preventative care and diagnosis errors can come at many steps along the way. Mothers at risk of passing a viral infection along to their babies should be preventatively screened; carers with active infections such as cold sores should be counseled not to kiss the infant. Obtaining informed consent from the mother of the risks of different delivery methods is also part of the proper standards of care.
Poor monitoring and improper diagnosis of cases of post-birth encephalitis may also constitute malpractice, particularly when its symptoms are overlooked in favor of more common diagnoses like hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.
When to Consult with an Experienced Birth Injury Attorney
With birth injuries stemming from encephalitis, the best course of action is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt as soon as possible. Although filing suit may seem like a secondary concern when dealing with an infant’s health, both New Jersey and Pennsylvania law state that birth injury cases must be filed within two years from the date of injury — other states set their statutes of limitations as short as one year for such cases.
With 30 years of experience in cases of birth trauma, McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of medical negligence or professional malpractice. All birth injury claims are handled on a contingency basis.