Sepsis is an out-of-control reaction to infection that can start shutting down organs in mere hours. Often it happens when an infection gets into the blood. Every minute counts in getting proper care. Millions of people around the world die from sepsis each year, and 30% of sepsis cases in the U.S. result in death.
There are no simple diagnostic tests for sepsis, but there are warning signs if healthcare providers pay close enough attention. The failure to stay alert and respond to signs of sepsis can be medical malpractice.
“Minutes matter,” says Dr. James O’Brien, a critical care specialist at Ohio State University Medical Center. O’Brien says that delays in treatment are too often simply a case of “not treating this like a medical emergency.”
The early symptoms of sepsis can be vague: confusion, shortness of breath, an increase in the heart rate, falling blood pressure and weakness, all of which could be caused for many other reasons. But the combination of symptoms without a clear benign cause is reason for aggressive care.
To better combat this deadly reaction, international sepsis experts recently formed a Global Sepsis Alliance to urge more aggressive care. The alliance wants hospitals to start antibiotics and intravenous fluids within an hour of suspicion of sepsis, as every hour of delay lowers survival by nearly 8 percent. Currently, many hospitals don’t begin appropriate care for four or even six hours, according to Dr. O’Brien.
Misdiagnosis of Sepsis
According to Patient Safety in American Hospitals, 1.2 patients per one thousand hospitalized patients develop post-operative sepsis. Further, sepsis is a serious problem among the youngest population, with 2.5 percent of deaths among babies less than a year old being caused by bacterial sepsis of the newborn. There is a great deal of media attention on hospital infections—for good reason. Many of today’s medical malpractice claims arise not from the treatment a patient receives, but from sepsis developed while in the hospital.
When that sepsis is misdiagnosed, the results can be tragic. The CDC estimates that hospital infections kill 90,000 people each and every year, and result in approximately 205,000 additional hospital days for infection patients. The development of sepsis while in the hospital is only a part of the bigger problem. There are more than three-quarters of a million fatalities every year in the U.S. from sepsis. Those with compromised immune systems as well as small children and the elderly are most at risk of developing sepsis. When sepsis is not diagnosed early, it can be almost impossible to cure, and approximately one in four people with severe sepsis will die.
How the Body Works When It Gets an Infection
When an infection invades the body, it releases chemicals to stop the infection, however those chemicals also cause inflammation which can block oxygen and critical nutrients from getting to the body’s key organs. As the infection worsens, it can lead to septic shock, a decrease in blood pressure, and failure of the heart and respiratory systems which can, in turn, lead to death. The key to surviving a serious infection is an early diagnosis, and proper treatment. There is a wide variance in the rates of sepsis among different hospitals. This is due to the fact that some hospitals have implemented fail-safe procedures which result in a very low rate of sepsis, while others have not. Infections in a hospital setting are largely due to negligence, including:
- A failure to properly sterilize surgical instruments;
- A failure to use proper hand-washing techniques;
- An overall unclean hospital, and
- Failure to use proper sterilization techniques when catheters and ventilators are used.
Proving Sepsis Was Due to Lack of Sterilization Can Be Difficult
Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult for a patient to prove it was the hospital’s lack of proper sterilization that led to their sepsis. A successful medical malpractice lawsuit for a patient who developed sepsis in a Maryland, Virginia or Washington D.C. hospital is more likely to involve failure to promptly diagnose and treat sepsis rather than the fact that the patient developed sepsis while in the hospital. Newborn sepsis is particularly crucial because a baby’s immune system is not yet developed enough to fight off such an infection. If sepsis is not properly diagnosed and treated in a newborn, the results can be tragic. Consider the following two Maryland cases:
- In 2013, a 77-year old woman injured her back and was transported to a Maryland hospital. While in the hospital she experienced a loss of feeling in her extremities, and was transferred to the University of Maryland Medical Center. While there, the woman developed a staph infection at the surgical site, and died from complications three months later. A Frederick County jury found in favor of the plaintiff (the woman’s daughter, who filed a wrongful death claim), awarding her $1.3 million.
- Another Maryland case involved a two-week old baby girl who had missed feedings and was having trouble breathing. Her parents brought her to an ER where blood tests were conducted, then the infant was discharged before the results of the blood tests were obtained. More than 24 hours later, the parents were told the results of the blood tests showed the baby had developed a staph infection. The infant developed meningitis and suffered irreparable brain damage. The parents sued, and were awarded $9.5 million in damages.
If you or a loved one developed sepsis which was not diagnosed in a timely manner, it could be extremely beneficial to speak to a Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorney. Your attorney will have extensive knowledge regarding sepsis and will be experienced in proving negligence on the part of a health care provider or hospital.
Contact Our Medical Malpractice Lawyers
At Patrick Malone & Associates, our injury lawyers have extensive experience representing injured patients and families in the 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 1-888-625-6635 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.