Hospital-Acquired Puerperal Fever

Puerperal fever is an infection in a woman's reproductive tract that happens immediately after childbirth or an abortion. Often referred to as childbed fever, puerperal fever can be a life-threatening medical condition that carries the potential for causing some severe medical complications.

A hospital-acquired case of puerperal fever can lengthen your hospital stay, cause considerable pain, and even threaten your life by causing other problems. Because there are steps that hospitals can take to drastically reduce your odds of getting puerperal fever, they should be held accountable and made to pay for the costs of your recovery.

The medical malpractice and personal injury lawyers at the Philadelphia law office of Gilman & Bedigian can help make that happen.

Puerperal Fever

Puerperal fever, colloquially known as childbed fever or a postpartum infection, is the medical condition of an infected reproductive tract in a woman who has recently given birth to a child, had a miscarriage, or had an abortion. The infection typically happens to the raw surface of the uterus that has been aggravated from the separation of the placenta during delivery.

The type of bacteria that infects the reproductive tract can increase or decrease the severity of the condition. However, a diagnosis of puerperal fever does not depend on the kind of bacteria that gets inside – any bacteria leads to a case of puerperal fever.

While puerperal fever has become far less common since the advent of penicillin and basic sanitary policies in hospitals, there were still an estimated 11.8 million cases of puerperal fever across the globe in 2015. Most of those, though, were in developing countries. In the U.S., only around one or two percent of deliveries led to a case of puerperal fever, though certain types of births – like those with prolonged labor and Cesarean sections – come with higher risks for puerperal fever.

Causes of Puerperal Fever

Infections that lead to puerperal fever can happen whenever bacteria is allowed to get inside a woman's reproductive tract. Once there, the bacteria can grow on weakened or inflamed tissue and grow and spread.

Bacteria can get inside a woman's reproductive tract in a number of ways, including:

  • Using delivery tools that are unsterile
  • Conducting too many vaginal exams during pregnancy or after childbirth
  • Abortions that are performed in unsanitary or uncontrolled environments
  • Cutting or tearing tissue in the reproductive tract with delivery tools during birth

Symptoms of Puerperal Fever

The type and severity of the symptoms of puerperal fever depend on the type of bacteria that has infected the reproductive organs. However, the most common symptoms include:

  • A fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Chills
  • Foul-smelling discharge from the vagina

These symptoms often begin between one and 10 days after the delivery.

Complications Associated with Puerperal Fever

The infection that causes puerperal fever can also cause other medical conditions, including some life-threatening problems that can pose a serious problem. The medical complications that can develop from puerperal fever depend on the type of bacteria that has caused the infection, how far the infection has spread, and how badly the infection has compromised your reproductive organs. Some of the most severe medical complications include:

  • Septicemia, or blood poisoning, if the infection spreads into the bloodstream
  • Cellulitis
  • Peritonitis

Sepsis or septicemia are the most severe complications of puerperal fever. Once the infection has spread from the reproductive organs to the bloodstream, it can compromise other organs, as well.

Risk Factors for Puerperal Fever

Certain women and certain types of deliveries are more likely to develop puerperal fever than others. The factors that increase the risks of developing puerperal fever include:

  • Caesarian section births
  • Deliveries with long or difficult labors
  • Early rupture of the membranes, or a premature water breaking

Any of these conditions can cause an invasion of bacteria into the reproductive tract and lead to an infection that causes a case of puerperal fever.

How to Prevent Puerperal Fever

Preventing puerperal fever is mainly a matter of keeping delivery rooms and procedures clean and sterile. This is why the risks of developing puerperal fever have declined sharply over the past few hundred years. Women who “died in childbirth” in the 1800s were often the victims of puerperal fever and its attendant complications. They were often killed because the doctors who delivered their baby simply did not wash his hands and the germs on them infected the mother during the delivery process.

Now, between sanitizing delivery rooms and tools and making sure everyone involved in the delivery process has washed their hands, hospitals should be expected to prevent puerperal fever cases from happening. The severity of those cases that do happen can be treated quickly and effectively with antibiotics.

What You Can Do If You Get Puerperal Fever in a Philadelphia Hospital

If you deliver a child at a hospital in Philadelphia and acquire a case of puerperal fever, you may be entitled to compensation for the costs of your recovery. Hospitals should have policies in place to ensure you are kept safe from these kinds of infections. If you still manage to get infected with bacteria and develop puerperal fever, it is a sign that something did not go correctly, or the hospital's policies are not strong enough.

Getting a second medical opinion about your condition is an important first step. By taking your case to a doctor that you can trust and that is outside the hospital system, you can make sure you get a diagnosis that is not biased or an attempt to insulate the doctor or facility from a potential medical malpractice claim.

If you are diagnosed with puerperal fever and it seems like that you acquired it in the hospital, your next step can be to talk to a lawyer like the ones at Gilman & Bedigian. You should not have to pay for the costs of recovering from a serious medical condition that you did not cause and could not prevent. With a lawyer's help, you can hold the hospital accountable for not keeping you safe and can recover the compensation you deserve.

Contact us online to get started on your case.

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