Hospitals and medical providers should have policies in place to address the possibility of infections in the emergency room, during surgery, and at every point of a patient’s stay. Infections are a common complication that can result in permanent injuries, loss of function of body parts, disease, and death. Infections prevent the patient’s immune system from properly acting against diseases and other medical conditions.
Patients may need to be hospitalized due to car accidents, nursing home neglect, burn injuries, amputations, and other serious accidents and injuries. Hospitals that fail to properly clean and sterilize their facilities and instruments may be liable for medical malpractice if their failures lead to serious infections such as sepsis and other debilitating medical conditions. Negligent healthcare providers should compensate patients and families for their medical bills, pain and suffering, lost income, and other damages such as loss of function of a body part. Families have the right to file a claim, such as a wrongful death claim, against the hospital and other healthcare providers.
What is sepsis?
The Sepsis Alliance states that sepsis is the “body’s overwhelming [and toxic] and life-threatening response to infection.” Sepsis can cause tissue damage, organ failure, and death. Sepsis is a medical emergency and prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to the patient’s chance of survival. Generally, your immune system fights to prevent infections from bacteria, fungi, viruses, or parasites. Your immune system may be able to fight the infection on its own. Often, however, you’ll need medications such as antibiotics, antivirals, antiparasitics, and antifungals.
What are the signs and symptoms of sepsis?
Sepsis occurs when your immune system stops fighting the infection and begins to shut down. The Sepsis Alliance states that the infection itself is not grounds for a sepsis diagnosis. Patients are diagnosed with sepsis when they have the signs and symptoms related to sepsis. A common acronym to identify these signs and symptoms is TIME:
- T – Temperature higher or lower. Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). A temperature of 100F is considered hyperthermia, a fever. Some people’s temperatures drop (hypothermia) when they’re trying to fight off an infection instead of rising.
- I – Infection. Some signs and symptoms are local, including infected cuts (redness and pus), urinary tract infections (the need to urinate or burning when urinating), and pneumonia (coughing and chest pain). Signs and symptoms that an infection has spread include tiredness, fever, and pain. Some people with infections do not have symptoms.
- M – Mental decline. This condition includes confusion, fatigue, and difficulty waking. Severe sleepiness is a common complaint.
- E – Extreme illness. Many people who survive sepsis say it was the “worst they ever fe” “It was the worst sore throat, worst abdominal pain, or they felt that they were going to die.”
Sepsis becomes severe when additional complications are present, including signs of organ dysfunction (such as problems breathing, low or no urine output, abnormal liver tests, and brain disorders). Patients with severe sepsis usually need to be treated in an intensive care unit.
Septic shock, the most dangerous level of sepsis, occurs when your blood pressure “drops to dangerous levels,” per the Sepsis Alliance. They also state:
Sepsis is the number 1 cost of hospitalization in the U.S. Costs for acute sepsis hospitalization and skilled nursing are estimated to be $62 billion annually. This is only a portion of all sepsis-related costs since there are substantial additional costs for many after discharge. The average cost per hospital stay for sepsis is double the average cost per stay across all other conditions. And, sepsis is the primary cause of readmission to the hospital, costing more than $3.5 billion each year.
On average, about 30% of patients diagnosed with sepsis do not survive. Nearly 50% suffer from post-sepsis syndrome.
According to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms of sepsis include:
- “Systolic blood pressure — the first number in a blood pressure reading — is less than or equal to 100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)
- Respiratory rate higher than or equal to 22 breaths a minute”
The signs and symptoms of septic shock include:
- “The need for medication to maintain systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 65 mm Hg.
- High levels of lactic acid in your blood (serum lactate). Having too much lactic acid in your blood means that your cells aren’t using oxygen properly.”
Risk factors for sepsis include infancy, old age, a compromised immune system, diabetes, admission to an ICU or long hospital stay, chronic liver or kidney disease, breathing tubes, intravenous catheters, and prior use of antibiotics or corticosteroids.
How is sepsis diagnosed?
The Mayo Clinic states that tests such as blood tests, urine tests, wound secretions, and respiratory secretions help form a sepsis diagnosis. X-rays may be used to identify lung infections. Ultrasounds help to check for gallbladder and kidney infections. CT scans help detect infections in a patient’s liver, pancreas, or other abdominal organs. MRIs help identify soft tissue and bone infections.
What are the treatments for sepsis?
The Mayo Clinic states that aggressive treatment can help treat sepsis. Close monitoring is essential. Lifesaving steps may be needed to stabilize a patient’s breathing and heart function.
Possible medications include antibiotics, IV fluids, and vasopressors, which help constrict blood vessels and increase blood pressure. Some patients may receive “low doses of corticosteroids, insulin to help maintain stable blood sugar levels, drugs that modify the immune system responses, and painkillers or sedatives.”
Patients with sepsis may need oxygen and/or dialysis. Surgery may be required to “remove sources of infection, such as collections of pus (abscesses), infected tissues, or dead tissues (gangrene).”
At Harris Lowry Manton LLP, our Savannah medical malpractice lawyers have helped numerous clients obtain strong settlements and high verdicts. We demand compensation for all your economic and non-economic damages including your pain and suffering. We file wrongful death claims when a loved one dies due to medical malpractice or due to accidents that cause the hospitalization that leads to deadly infections like sepsis. To discuss your right to compensation, call us or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation.
One of the nation’s top trial attorneys, Jeff Harris is an award-winning litigator who handles high-profile, complex cases across a wide variety of practice areas. He excels at securing justice for clients who have been seriously injured or killed, holding responsible parties accountable for their actions as well as their negligence.
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