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Hospital-Acquired Infections

Patients can acquire infections anywhere that they receive health care, whether in a doctor’s office, hospital, nursing home, or rehabilitation facility. Also called “health-care-associated infections” or “nosocomial infections,” these are potentially deadly infections that, at a minimum, can make you very ill.

Hospitals and other facilities have taken enormous strides at eliminating infections, but outbreaks nevertheless continue to occur. If you have picked up a bug while in the hospital or another health-care facility, you might be entitled to compensation if you can show the hospital is to blame for the transmission.

Common Infections

Many different organisms are present in hospitals that can be passed from person to person. The following is only a partial list of diseases or organisms you could pick up while in a healthcare facility:

  • Staph infection. Open wounds can get infected. Each year, there are about 500,000 cases of staph infections in hospitals. About 10% of these people die.
  • Legionnaires’ disease. A type of pneumonia that causes shortness of breath, muscle pains, fever, and headaches.
  • Tuberculosis. A bacterial disease that most frequently affects the lungs. Victims can cough up blood and lose weight.
  • E coli. Found in the intestines, E. coli is often harmless. However, certain strands can cause food poisoning.
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae. This organism can cause urinary tract infections and severe pneumonia.
  • Many infections are hard to eradicate because they are actually resistant to the primary antibiotics used to treat them:
  • Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to methicillin (called MRSA).
  • Enterococcus that is resistant to vancomycin (called VRE).

Developing one of these infections creates special problems since the routine method of treatment is no longer effective.

Transmission of Infections

An infection can pass in different ways, such as:

  • Direct contact with the bacteria or virus. For example, a nurse could transmit the microbial from one patient to another.
  • Droplet transmission, when droplets with the microbes are propelled typically by sneezing, coughing, or talking.
  • Airborne transmission, usually by very small particles that can travel across a room.
  • Transmission by mosquitoes or other vermin.
  • Transmission by food or water.
  • Unsterilized or poorly-sterilized equipment.

Hospitals have implemented extensive programs to limit the transmission of microbials, including required handwashing or alcohol rubs after treating each patient. Hospitals also sterilize equipment using dry heat, steam, or chemicals that kill all microorganisms. However, patients are especially vulnerable during surgery or if they use catheters or ventilators.

Prescribing antibiotics has also come under scrutiny since overprescribing can lead to bacteria developing resistance to current treatments. To halt this process, hospitals have tried to clamp down on unnecessary prescriptions.

If a hospital or other health-care facility learns of an infection, they should take steps to respond. For example, hospitals can isolate patients that have an infection to limit their contact with other patients.

Treating a Hospital-Acquired Infection

Treatment will vary by the infection, but those that are resistant to traditional antibiotics create certain problems. In some cases, doctors can use other anti-bacterials, though these treatments might carry high risks. If someone comes down with VRE, for example, then lab testing might be necessary to determine what other antibiotics will work apart from vancomycin.

Infection-related Statistics

A hospital-acquired infection is one that you pick up within 48 hours of being admitted to the hospital. For example, if you are admitted into the hospital with E coli poisoning, it is not a hospital-acquired infection unless you picked it up while in the hospital.

Hospital-acquired infections are a huge problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1.7 million people pick up an infection in a hospital. Overall, these infections contribute to around 99,000 deaths. The cost from these infections reaches into the tens of billions of dollars.

Negligence—Holding Doctors and Hospitals Accountable

The key to receiving compensation from a hospital is to determine whether the hospital was negligent in how it implemented its protocol for eliminating common diseases and organisms. For example, if a hospital does not properly train staff to sterilize equipment, then you can hold it legally responsible when you come down sick.

Other examples of negligence include:

  • Failing to scrub hands before operating on a patient
  • Failing to use gloves when necessary or to change gloves
  • Failing to clean hands or use alcohol before treating a new patient
  • Improper cleaning or sterilization of ventilators
  • Neglecting to respond adequately to an infection outbreak in the hospital

You can also have a negligence claim if the hospital fails to identify that you have an infection or fails to take proper steps to treat it. For example, you might be showing signs of tuberculosis when the hospital discharges you anyway. If you stay in the hospital, then staff might not order the right treatment, which is also a form of negligence.

Building Your Case

Hospitals will rarely admit that you picked up an infection because of their negligence. Instead, it is often possible that you picked up an infection after being released from the hospital—and this might be what the hospital claims to protect itself. What is key to these cases is tracing the infection to the hospital and to certain negligent actions or omissions.

These cases can present problems for inexperienced attorneys because the hospital can protect some information discussed in their infection control committees. However, an experienced medical malpractice lawyer in Atlanta can still build a case using their knowledge of how infections spread and what hospital records are discoverable.

Speak with a Medical Malpractice Attorney in Atlanta

Patients visit the hospital expecting to be made well. But when you contract an infection at the facility, you could face a long road to recovery.

At Slappey & Sadd, we have helped many injured patients in Cobb, Gwinnett, and Troup Counties receive compensation when they are the victims of medical malpractice. To learn more about your legal options, we offer potential clients a free consultation with one of our Atlanta medical malpractice lawyers.

Reach out to us today. The sooner you contact us, the faster we can go about obtaining the necessary evidence for your case. Please call 404.255.6677 or fill out our online contact form.

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