Attorney Kevin QuinnHospital patients put their trust in healthcare facilities and expect to receive the best possible care. What they don’t expect is to contract an infection during their hospital stay. Unfortunately, 1 of 20 patients will become infected while in the hospital. (In an intensive care unit, up to 30 percent of patients will be infected.) “On an annual basis, there are at least 700,000 of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). These hospital-acquired infections result in upwards of 75,000 deaths every year,” said Personal Injury Attorney Kevin Quinn.

Most common HAIs

Caused by viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens, HAIs can take many forms. The most common types include:

Respiratory infections

Simply walking into a hospital can potentially expose a person to infectious microbes. Pneumonia is a common HAI that causes lung inflammation. It occurs when bacteria or viruses get into the lower respiratory system, which is usually sterile. Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) is a specific type of pneumonia contracted through an intubation tube and ventilator.

Surgical site infections (SSIs)

These infections occur after a surgical procedure. SSIs involve an infection in the area of the surgical incision. The infection can be the result of unsanitary conditions during the procedure or improper wound care afterwards.

Gastrointestinal infections

Gastroenteritis is the most common HAI in children. The infection typically stems from rotavirus. Adults who contract gastroenteritis in a hospital are often infected by Clostridium difficile. The bacterium, also known as C. difficile or C.diff is particularly dangerous since it has become resistant to many antibiotics.

Urinary tract infections

Catheters are sometimes necessary for people who are unable to empty their bladder in the usual way. The bladder and urinary tract are usually germ-free environments, but the catheter tube can introduce pathogens which cause UTIs.

Bloodstream infections

Inserted into patients through a major vein in the neck, chest or groin, central lines are an indispensable medical tool. They facilitate the administration of fluids and precise doses of medication. Unfortunately, they can allow pathogens to get directly into the bloodstream, resulting in a potentially serious widespread infection.

Patients who contract a HAI can suffer significant side effects and complications. In the most severe cases, patients will develop sepsis, a form of “blood poisoning” resulting from the body’s overwhelming immune system response. Sepsis has a remarkably high mortality rate of between 40% and 60%.

Risk factors for HAIs

Any patient is at risk of acquiring an infection during a hospital stay. However, there are certain factors that increase the risk of an HAI. 

Healthcare related factors surgical procedures, the use of invasive devices and excessive antibiotic use. (Studies indicate that up to half of the antibiotics prescribed in hospitals are unnecessary or inappropriate.)

Environmental factors include the layout of the hospital, which typically place patients in close proximity to one another, allowing infections to spread quickly. In a hospital setting, it is crucial that air-exchange, humidity, pressure and temperature be precisely controlled. A faulty HVAC system can increase the risk of infection for patients.

Patient-related factors include the severity of the underlying medical problem, use of immunosuppressive agents, length of the hospital stay, and the patient’s age and overall health.

Nursing home infections

It is estimated that somewhere between one and three million infections occur each year in nursing homes. Residents can contract some of the same infections as hospital patients, including UTIs and respiratory infections. However, because of their advanced age and compromised immune systems, nursing home residents are more susceptible to infections and the serious complications that often accompany them. There are also some additional infections that are common in nursing homes. Due to the various changes in the skin as a result of aging, nursing home residents are prone to getting skin infections and soft tissue infections.

Pressure ulcers (bedsores) are a typical cause of skin infections. So is methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Caused by staph bacteria, MRSA is resistant to normal antibiotic treatments, making it difficult to deal with. The infection often manifests itself as small red bumps or boils, which can turn into painful abscesses quickly. Although it starts out on the skin, the infection has the potential to get into the body and cause other infections that affect the heart, lungs, joints, and the blood.

For most people in good health Influenza is a mere inconvenience. For senior citizens, particularly those in nursing homes, it can be deadly. During outbreaks, more than five percent of influenza cases among nursing home patients are fatal.

Nursing homes have recently been devastated by COVID-19 with nursing home residents and staff deaths accounting for one-third of all U.S. coronavirus deaths.

Lawsuits involving infections

Healthcare professionals and facilities owe a duty to patients or to abide by the standard of care of a reasonable medical professional or facility under the same or similar circumstances. If this duty is breached and the result is a serious infection or other related injuries, a medical malpractice lawsuit may potentially be pursued. If the infection was the result of a design flaw in a medical device, a product liability claim may potentially be filed against the manufacturer.

It should be noted that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has granted health care professionals civil immunity for “good faith actions taken to fight the COVID-19 pandemic”. This immunity, however, does not offer legal protection to healthcare facilities.

Cases involving HAIs and infections can be very complex, requiring the assistance of an experienced attorney. If you or a loved one contracted a serious infection while in a hospital or nursing home, call (800) 760-1529 to speak with one of HKQ Law’s medical malpractice attorneys.

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