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What Is a Failure to Diagnose an Infection?

Infections are not always treated as serious health issues. An infection from a minor cut can be treated by washing the area with soap and water and keeping it clean. However, infections can include much more serious types of illness that can spread quickly, cause serious damage, and even lead to death. 

Another issue is that infections do not treat everyone equally. People with compromised immune systems may have a much more difficult time fighting off even the most minor of infections. Infections may be much more serious with the elderly, young children, or anyone who is immunocompromised, including people who are overweight, smokers, or have chronic diseases. 

When a medical patient has an infection, it is important for a doctor to properly evaluate and diagnose the patient for the correct type of infection. Understanding the infection is key to treating the infection and improving patient recovery. This includes identifying treatment options, drug treatment, contraindications, and patient monitoring. 

Unfortunately, doctors can make mistakes in diagnosing an infection, including failure to diagnose an infection, misdiagnosis, and delayed diagnosis. Failure to diagnose mistakes can cause the patient unnecessary pain and suffering, allow the infection to spread, cause damage, and even lead to death.    

If a doctor fails to follow the medical standards and fails to diagnose an infection, the patient may have a claim for medical malpractice. If you or a loved one was injured because of a diagnostic infection failure, contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

Infections and the Immune Response

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), infection is an invasion and growth of germs in the body. Germs can be introduced just about anywhere and spread throughout the body. Germs that cause an infection can come in a variety of forms, including: 

The body’s reaction to infection often depends on the health of the patient and the health of their immune system. A common immune response to a minor infection in a healthy person begins with the body recognizing that a foreign entity is inside the body and the body reacts. The innate immune response begins quickly and begins fighting an infection, resulting in inflammation. This can appear as redness in the area of the infection and fever. The adaptive immune response uses T cells to kill pathogens and B cells to make antibodies against the specific antigen. 

When the immune system does not respond properly, it can allow the infection to spread or the body’s natural immune system can overreact and cause damage. Common immune system disorders include immunodeficiency and autoimmune diseases. Immunodeficiencies weaken the immune system and allow infections to spread and infect more easily. Immunodeficiency disorders can be acquired or individuals can be born with them. 

Autoimmune disorders can cause the body to overreact to triggers, producing antibodies that attack the body’s own tissue, instead of fighting infection. This can cause injury and damage while allowing infections to spread. Some common examples of autoimmune diseases include: 

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus 
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Psoriasis
  • Vasculitis

Diagnosing an Infection

Making a diagnosis is based on a doctor’s training, experience, and education. Doctors can review a patient’s complaints and symptoms, medical history, personal history, lab results, imaging, and other information to make a diagnosis based on the standards of medical care. It is important for doctors to gather the necessary information, give the information the proper weight, and ask the important questions to make sure the diagnosis is accurate.

Diagnostic techniques can include lab specimens, including blood tests, tissue samples, immunohistochemistry (IHC), special states, molecular tests, and even electron microscopy studies. Imaging tests that can be useful for some infection identification may include ultrasounds, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET). If a doctor can’t make the right diagnosis, they should continue ruling out other conditions or refer the patient to a specialist. 

Signs and Symptoms of Common Infections

The signs and symptoms of an infection are familiar to most people. However, symptoms of infection can be different in different people, and different for different types of infections. According to the CDC, signs and symptoms of infection may include: 

  • Fever 
  • Chills and sweats
  • Change in cough or a new cough
  • Sore throat or new mouth sore
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nasal congestion
  • Stiff neck
  • Burning or pain with urination
  • Unusual vaginal discharge or irritation
  • Increased urination
  • Redness, soreness, or swelling in any area, including surgical wounds and ports
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • New onset of pain

However, many of these symptoms can be similar to other medical conditions. Diagnostic testing and lab testing can help doctors narrow down the type of infection. Some types of infections may be relatively simple to diagnose, such as an infection at a wound site. Other infections may be more difficult to diagnose, when the source or extent of the infection is unknown. 

Risk Factors for Infectious Diseases

Some people are more at risk of contracting an infection and suffering serious harm from the infection. In addition to auto-immune disorders, many medical conditions can leave people more prone to infection. Risk factors for infections can include: 

  • Very old people
  • Very young people
  • Obesity
  • Cancer treatment
  • Unvaccinated
  • Going through cancer treatment
  • Recent organ transplant recipients
  • Diabetes

Infection Treatment Options With Antibiotics and Medication

The most common treatment option for infectious diseases is the use of antibiotics and other medications. Generally, antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial infections. Antifungal medication can be used to treat fungal infections. Antiviral medications can treat viruses. Anthelmintic drugs are used in treating some parasitic infections. Other medications may be used to treat the symptoms of infection, such as pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, or decongestants. There is a concern about antibiotic resistance. Microbes can evolve and adapt and may be able to resist antibiotic treatment. 

Patient Support and Monitoring

Patient monitoring is an important part of infection treatment. Patients who are treated with infection medication should be monitored to make sure the medication is working and the patient is not getting worse. If the medication does not have an effect on the infection, the patient may have been misdiagnosed and could be at risk of serious injury if the infection is allowed to spread. 

Consequences of a Serious Infection

Many healthy people can recover from a minor infection on their own, relying on the body’s natural immune response process. However, serious infections that are not treated can cause serious injury, organ damage, and death. When infections are not diagnosed or treated, it can lead to sepsis and septic shock. 

Sepsis occurs when the body’s inflammatory immune response causes injury to body tissues and organs. Sepsis is a life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection. Septic shock is a type of circulatory shock, where there is insufficient blood supply to the tissues and organs of the body. This can lower pressure, result in abnormalities in cellular metabolism, and impair the body’s ability to transport blood and oxygen to tissues and organs. 

During infection shock, the body generally prioritizes blood supply to the major organs, including the brain. As infection shock continues, cells in the body begin to die from a lack of oxygen and blood flow. Vital organs can begin to shut down, eventually leading to death. Treating septic shock generally includes administering IV fluids and antibiotics, controlling the infection, supporting organ function, and patient monitoring. 

Healthcare Acquired Infections

Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are infections that are transmitted while a patient is in a healthcare setting, including a hospital, nursing home, or surgical clinic. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the six most common types of healthcare-associated infections are: 

  1. Pneumonia
  2. Surgical-site infection
  3. Gastrointestinal infection
  4. Urinary tract infection
  5. Primary bloodstream infections
  6. Eye, ear, nose, throat, or mouth infection

These infections can be spread through improper medical care, including failure to properly clean and sanitize surgical tools, failure to treat and monitor bed sores, failure to follow cleaning procedures involving catheters, and failure to quarantine infected patients. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1 in 31 hospital patients develop an infection during their hospital stay. Some patients are at increased risk of an HAI, including patients with long hospital stays, surgical patients, and patients with an IV or catheter. 

Common Medical Malpractice Infections

The most common medical malpractice claims involving infection include failure to diagnose an infection, surgical site infections, and healthcare-associated infections. For example, the CDC found that in 2015, there were an estimated 110,800 surgical site infections (SSIs) in inpatient surgeries. These infections were “a substantial cause of morbidity, prolonged hospitalization, and death.”

Unfortunately for surgical patients, many of these SSIs are preventable. They were caused by cutting corners, understaffing, and failure to follow proper surgical procedures. The individuals responsible for surgical infections may include the hospital staff, nurses, doctors, anesthesiologists, surgeons, and physician’s assistants. In many cases, the hospital is also liable for medical malpractice injuries caused by infection. 

Infection claims can involve doctors and health care professionals who cause an infection, fail to diagnose the correct infection or fail to treat the infection. When the medical failure causes injury or damage, the patient may have a claim for medical malpractice. 

A medical malpractice lawsuit allows the injury victim to recover damages from their injuries. Damages in a medical malpractice claim can include economic and noneconomic losses associated with the injury, including: 

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Future medical treatment
  • Pain and suffering

If a family member died because of a medical error, the family members may be able to recover damages through a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death claim is filed on behalf of the beneficiaries to provide support and compensation when the victim is no longer alive to file a claim on their own behalf. 

COVID-19 Infections and Medical Malpractice Claims

A major infection pandemic that is in most people’s minds is COVID-19. The COVID-19 virus strain was identified in 2019 and over the next couple of years, was responsible for the deaths of more than 6 million people, including more than 960,000 deaths in the U.S. (April 2022) 

The coronavirus disease 2019 caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, with symptoms including fever, cough, headache, fatigue, breathing difficulty, and loss of smell and taste. The infection was primarily transmitted through airborne particles, with symptoms developing days after initial infection, which made it difficult to track the disease and control spread. 

There may have been many people who were infected, permanently injured, or died because of failure to diagnose a COVID-19 infection in patients. Unfortunately for patients, most states passed some sort of limited liability exclusions for injuries or deaths caused by negligence related to COVID-19. Patients may be limited from filing failure to diagnose a COVID-19 infection, unless they can show their doctor acted with gross negligence. 

If you have questions about medical malpractice claims related to COVID, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney to understand your rights and legal options. 

What If I Can’t Prove a Failure to Diagnose?

Many injury victims with legitimate claims fail to come forward because they are not 100% sure that their injuries were caused by medical negligence. Medical negligence is a complex legal matter and is ultimately decided by the court. You may not know what went on behind closed doors at the doctor’s office or what the proper standards of medical care require. This is why you can benefit from an experienced medical malpractice team

As part of a medical malpractice case, your attorney will gather all records and evidence, and compel discovery through court orders if your doctor doesn’t turn everything over. Your attorney can have experienced medical experts review the records, testimony, and other evidence to identify where the doctor deviated from standard practices, which may have resulted in an infection injury. 

If you suspect your injury was caused by a diagnostic error, you don’t have to have proof. You just have to reach out for legal help. Contact a law firm that handles infection medical malpractice cases. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.


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