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Did I Get Sepsis Because of an Infection in a Hospital?

Most people don’t like spending any more time in a hospital than is absolutely necessary. Some people even forgo getting medical treatment because of their concerns about being in the hospital. Even though hospitals are supposed to have strict cleaning protocols, sterilization procedures are not always followed. A healthy patient could walk into a hospital and become infected during their care inside the hospital.  

A serious infection can lead to sepsis, septic stroke, or even death. Hospitals may try and say that the infection is just a risk of medical care but it could be due to medical negligence. If a doctor or hospital fails to properly care for a patient, including proper infection protocols, they may be responsible for an infection injury. 

If you or a family member suffered an injury because of an infection they got in a hospital, you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit to recover damages. A medical malpractice attorney can help you understand more about the hospital infections and malpractice claims. Contact Gilman & Bedigian today online or by phone at 800-529-6162 for help with your malpractice claim.  

What Is Sepsis?

Sepsis occurs because of the body’s extreme reaction to an infection. With a minor infection, the body naturally responds to attack the source of the infection, generally a virus, bacteria, or fungus. Your body’s immune system responds by producing white blood cells, antibodies, interferons, and other processes to get rid of the infection. The body can feel feverish and tired as a result of the immune system’s response to attacking the foreign invaders 

Sepsis is a more serious condition when the infection triggers a chain reaction in the body. The body has an overactive response to the infection, which can cause tissue damage, organ function, and death. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition and needs to be treated immediately. Immediate treatment can increase the chances of recovery and reduce the likelihood of long-term damage.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Every year, about 1.7 million adults develop sepsis. About 20% of those people, or 350,000, die in a hospital or are discharged to hospice. The people most at risk for bacterial, fungal, or viral sepsis include: 

  • Adults 65 and older
  • People with a weakened immune system
  • People with recent severe illness or hospitalization
  • People with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, lung disease, cancer, and kidney disease
  • People who survived sepsis
  • Children under the age of one

Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment for Sepsis?

Before a patient goes septic, they may be suffering from a bacterial infection, fungal infection, or infection caused by a virus, like COVID-19 or the flu. Some of the early signs of sepsis are similar to signs of an infection. When the patient has sepsis, the signs and symptoms may include: 

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weak pulse
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Fever or shivering
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Clammy or sweaty skin

A doctor may diagnose a patient based on medical history, physical examination, lab tests, and imaging tests. Symptoms of sepsis can appear similar to other medical conditions and a patient can be misdiagnosed or have a delayed diagnosis, which delays treatment and reduces the chance of recovery. If a doctor diagnoses sepsis or suspects possible sepsis, immediate treatment is required. 

Adult Sepsis Event in Hospitals

Hospitals may classify a patient with sepsis as an adult sepsis event (ASE). An ASE generally includes a blood culture; at least 4 qualifying antimicrobial days; and one or more of the following: 

  • Initiation of new vasopressor infusion; 
  • Initiation of invasive mechanical ventilation
  • Doubling of serum creatinine or decrease of estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) relative to baseline
  • Total bilirubin greater than or equal to 2.0 mg/dL and increase by 100% from baseline
  • Platelet count less than 100 cells/µL and ≥ 50% decline from baseline

Treatment for sepsis can include antibiotics, oxygen treatment, intravenous (IV) fluid administration, blood pressure medications, and treating the source of the infection. Some patients may need dialysis or artificial respiration. If the infection continues, the patient may need surgery to remove damaged tissue. 

In many cases, sepsis is preventable. One way to reduce the chance of sepsis is to reduce the risk of infection. This includes proper hygiene and sanitation and keeping wounds clean and covered. This is not only for the patient but also for hospital staff and health care workers. 

Hospital-Acquired Infections

Many patients end up becoming infected during their hospital stay. These types of infections are known as healthcare-associated infections or hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “healthcare-associated infections are infections people get while they are receiving health care for another condition. HAIs can happen in any health care facility, including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, end-stage renal disease facilities, and long-term care facilities.”

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the 7 most common HAIs in the U.S. are: 

  1. Pneumonia: 24.3%
  2. Surgical-site infection: 24.3%
  3. Gastrointestinal infection: 19%
  4. Urinary tract infection: 14.4%
  5. Primary bloodstream infections: 11.1%
  6. Eye, ear, nose, throat, or mouth infection: 6.2%
  7. Lower respiratory tract infection: 4.4%

There are different types of bacteria and viruses that cause infection. One of the most common causes of HAIs is related to clostridium difficile (C Diff). Other sources of HAIs include: 

Injuries Caused by Infections and Sepsis

HAIs can come from a variety of sources. This includes bacteria present in the air or infections directly introduced inside the body, including: 

  • Central line-associated bloodstream infections;
  • Catheter-associated urinary tract infections; 
  • Ventilator-associated pneumonia; and
  • Surgical site infections.

In many cases, HAIs are preventable and they would not occur but for the failure of the hospital or health care workers that do not follow proper cleaning and sanitization procedures. Failures that cause infection may include: 

  • Improper disinfection and sterilization
  • Lack of handwashing 
  • Lack of environmental infection control
  • Lack of isolation precautions
  • Improperly maintained HVAC systems

Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infections

Central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) cause thousands of deaths every year. A central venous catheter is also known as a central line that allows fluids, blood, and medications to be administered through a large vein. Central lines are often used in patients with serious conditions, including treatment in intensive care units (ICUs).

Healthcare workers are supposed to follow strict protocols when inserting a central line and every time they check the line or change the dressing around the line. Healthcare workers are also supposed to properly monitor the central line site, test for infections, and report any possible infections for treatment. Central line practices include: 

  • Hand hygiene
  • Skin antiseptic
  • Sterile gloves, gown, cap, and mask
  • Central line maintenance
  • Removal of the central line as soon as it is no longer needed

Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections

Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) occur when a urinary catheter introduces infection to any part of the urinary tract, including the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidney. UTIs are the most common type of HAI, with approximately 75% of those UTIs associated with a catheter. 

Urinary catheters are used to drain urine from the bladder through the urethra. Catheters can be used for people who have difficulty urinating, for certain tests, or for draining the bladder before surgery or while undergoing medical care. CAUTIs can be caused when healthcare workers don’t follow proper protocols when inserting and using urinary catheters. Proper treatment for healthcare workers includes: 

  • Hand hygiene
  • Ensure only properly trained healthcare workers insert and maintain catheters
  • Use aseptic techniques and sterile equipment when inserting catheters
  • Inserting catheters only for appropriate indications 
  • Leaving catheters in place only as long as needed
  • Maintain unobstructed urine flow
  • Maintain a closed drainage system

Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia

Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) is a type of infection in the lungs for patients using a ventilator. Ventilators are used in patients who may not be able to breathe properly, to make sure they get enough oxygen to the lungs to send oxygenated blood to the cells and organs throughout the body. A VAP can occur when the infection is introduced through the ventilator tube and gets into the patient’s lungs.

VAP can occur when doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers do not follow proper sanitation protocols when using a ventilator. To prevent VAPs, hospitals can take the following precautions: 

  • Keep the patient’s bed elevated to 30 to 45 degrees when possible
  • Remove the ventilator when no longer necessary
  • Hand hygiene when touching the patient or the ventilator
  • Cleaning the patient’s mouth
  • Clean or replace equipment between uses

Surgical Site Infections 

Surgical site infections (SSIs) involve an infection that occurs after surgery. When bacteria, viruses, or fungus are transmitted to the tissue under the skin, organs, or on implanted material, it can cause a severe infection, even in healthy patients. Like other hospital-associated infections, SSIs can be caused when doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers fail to follow proper infection guidelines, which include: 

  • Hand and arm hygiene
  • Cleaning with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub before and after caring for patients
  • Hair covers, masks, gowns, and gloves during surgery
  • Administer antibiotics when indicated
  • Cleaning the skin of the surgical site

Who Is Responsible for a Hospital Infection Leading to Sepsis?

It can be difficult to know who was responsible for a hospital infection that causes sepsis. The infection could come from an individual failing to follow proper protocols or because of a lack of proper training and supervision by the hospital administrators. If a patient can show they suffered sepsis and injury because of an infection that was not properly treated, the patient may have a claim for medical malpractice. 

For a medical malpractice claim, the patient has to show there was a deviation from the standards of medical care that caused injury and harm to the patient. For example, if a surgeon didn’t wash their hands before surgery when standard surgical practices require hand-washing and the patient suffered an infection and sepsis as a result, the surgeon may be liable for medical malpractice. The patient could file a lawsuit against the doctor to recover medical bills, lost income, and compensation for pain and suffering

Hospital Infections in Different States

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring HAI reports, including individual state and national progress. Individuals can search the CDC website for an interactive map on antibiotic resistance and HAIs in their states.  

Infections in Illinois Hospitals

According to the CDC, on a state level, hospitals in Illinois reported better infection rates compared to the national baseline in 2021 in a number of areas, including catheter-associated UTIs, central line blood infections, C. Diff, MRSA, and colon surgery infections. However, ventilator-associated events were reported as 46% higher compared to the national baseline. Illinois also reported a significant increase in VAEs between 2020 and 2021. 

Pennsylvania Hospital Infections

According to the CDC report for 2021, hospitals in Pennsylvania improved their infection compared to the national baseline between 2020 and 2021 in most areas, including, central line infections, catheter UTIs, C. Diff infections, and colon surgery infections. However, ventilator-associated events were 42% higher in Pennsylvania compared to national baselines. There was also a significant increase in VAEs in Pennsylvania hospitals between 2020 and 2021. 

Where Can I Find Out More Sepsis Caused by Hospital Infections?

The first step to finding out more about if your sepsis injuries were caused by hospital infections is to talk to a medical malpractice professional. A medical malpractice attorney can explain the process of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit and how much your award might be worth. There is a limited amount of time to file a medical malpractice lawsuit so reach out to an attorney as soon as you learn about a possible medical mistake. 

If you have a family member who died after suffering an HAI in a hospital, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim against the hospital or nursing home. Contact experienced medical malpractice trial attorneys Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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