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Meningitis kills teenager after he was given paracetamol instead of antibiotics

13-year-old Thomas Smith Photo: WNS

A teenager hoping to become the next star footballer was killed by meningitis on his 13th birthday, after staff at hospital gave him paracetamol instead of antibiotics, and inquest has heard.

Thomas Smith, from Hednesford in Staffordshire, was on a family break in South Wales in May 2013 when he complained of a headache.

An out of hours GP referred him to Prince Charles Hospital, in Merthyr Tydfil, where a doctor gave him paracetamol while further tests were carries out.

But an inquest has heard he was suffering from pneumococcal meningitis, which is a deadly form of the brain virus, and does not cause a rash.

Thomas Smith had been described as a talented footballer Credit: WNS

A medical expert told the inquest that Thomas Smith should have had 'immediate intervention' when he was taken to hospital with six signs of meningitis, including headache, sickness, neck-pain, flu-like symptoms, earache and vomiting.

It was an emergency which should have been treated with antibiotics without delay.

Thomas presented with symptoms of meningitis. The guidelines emphasis early recognition and prompt treatment.

– Consultant paediatrician Dr Rim Al-Samsam

Thomas Smith was not given antibiotics until four hours after he arrived at the hospital, after he was seen by a senior paediatrician and diagnosed with meningitis.

Doctor Kwong-Tou Yip was the doctor that first saw the teenager, and gave him paracetamol.

With hindsight I should have started him on antibiotics a lot sooner.

If you start antibiotics sooner there's a possibility of recovery or less neurological damage.

– Hospital Doctor Kwong-Tou Yip

Just minutes after he was given antibiotics, Thomas Smith had a seizure and was taken to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

But he never recovered from it, and died on his 13th birthday, in May this year.

The hearing in Wales also heard from a professor of microbiology, who said antibiotics would 'not necessarily' have saved the boy.

If meningitis had been diagnosed at admission then he would have been started on antibiotics.

The earlier you start treatment the better - early treatment improves outcome.

But giving antibiotics is not a magic wand that saves patients from all complications.

– Professor Gary French

The inquest continues.

If you want to find out more about meningitis, and its symptoms, visit the Meningitis Research Foundation website