Dangers of Slow Use of Antibiotics

Every year, treatable illnesses can suddenly become fatal when a physician fails to diagnose a serious infection and administer antibiotics early enough to stop the infection.

Puppeteer Jim Henson died at age 53 of a late-treated infection that resulted in fatal pneumonia. Many other less known people have died or been crippled by serious infections that weren’t taken seriously enough.

Patients who must be admitted to a hospital for a surgical procedure or an illness can face a serious risk of infection, particularly those with a compromised immune system, the elderly and small children. The Centers for Disease Control estimates the risk of a hospital-acquired infection is roughly 1 in 25 patients.

These infections can include sepsis (bloodstream infections), surgical site infections, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and conditions of the gastrointestinal system. Whether a person develops an infection through the course of their normal life, or in a hospital, that infection can quickly lead to serious complications if not treated promptly with antibiotics. Untreated infections can result in:

• Miscarriages in pregnant women;
• Loss of limbs;
• Permanent brain damage;
• Additional surgeries, and
• Death.

Dangers of Sepsis

In the case of sepsis, which is caused by the body’s overwhelming immune response to infection, blood pressure drops, the heart can weaken, and organs such as the lungs, liver and kidneys can fail quickly, leading to death of the patient. Sepsis comes on quickly and can be difficult to treat. In the United States, more than a million Americans will be diagnosed with severe sepsis annually, and between 28 and 50 percent of those patients will die. This number is more than the total of deaths in the United States from prostate cancer, AIDS and breast cancer combined.

Diagnosing Infection

Patients who have a fever, an increase in respiration rates, and an increase in heart rates should have a blood test done to determine whether there are an abnormal amount of white blood cells present. This is a common sign of sepsis. Blood, urine and sputum may also be tested for the presence of infection, as well as ordering chest x-rays and CT scans.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics are generally the first line of treatment until the exact infection is identified, then an antibiotic which more specifically targets the infection will be administered. Unfortunately, far too often the diagnosis of an infection is delayed, or the infection is misdiagnosed, allowing it to spread rapidly. By the time such an infection is finally diagnosed, it can be highly resistant to antibiotics. Consider the following Montgomery County, Maryland case:

Young Maryland Woman Dies of Urinary Tract Infection
The husband and two young children of a woman who died of a urinary tract infection were awarded $2.6 million in a Maryland medical malpractice case. The 33-year-old woman went to her local hospital complaining of shortness of breath, painful urination, back pain, chills, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Many hours later the nursing staff noticed the woman’s urine was very dark.

Even so, the hospital staff delayed more than ten hours before administering antibiotics. By that time, sepsis had set in, and the woman suffered damage to multiple organ systems, and died two days later. It was clear to the jury that the woman had obvious symptoms of a UTI and sepsis, yet a diagnosis and administration of antibiotics was delayed to the point that it was too late.

Infection Deaths and Injuries Largely Preventable with Antibiotics

Most undiagnosed cases of infection and the resulting injuries and deaths are absolutely preventable—in most cases by vigilance on the part of health care providers. Unfortunately, the pendulum for antibiotic use has recently swung in the opposite direction, and researchers find more and more infections becoming resistant to antibiotics due to overuse. Despite this, antibiotics play a very important role in stopping an infection before it reaches the point where it cannot be stopped. Doctors must learn to be attentive to their patients and listen carefully to the symptoms, ordering additional tests when an infection is suspected.

Patients must learn to be proactive about their health—when they know something is wrong, they must demand that their doctor order tests—or find a new doctor who is a better listener. Those patients who suffered serious harm from what should have been a very treatable infection should talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney in the Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. area.

Contact Washington DC Medical Malpractice Lawyers
At Patrick Malone & Associates, our medical malpractice lawyers have extensive experience representing injured patients and families in Washington, DC metro area, Virginia, and throughout the State of Maryland. If you or someone you love has been injured because of a misdiagnosis of sepsis or a failure to administer antibiotics, we can help. Call us at 1-202-742-1500 or 1-888-625-6645 or fill out our confidential contact form for a FREE Consultation and review of your case.

The medical malpractice attorneys at Patrick Malone & Associates have successfully represented injured individuals in Washington, DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Annapolis, Rockville, Baltimore, Richmond, Fairfax, and many other places in Maryland and Virginia.