According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), healthcare-associated infections are among the top 10 causes of death in the United States. A healthcare-associated infection is an infection that a patient develops while undergoing medical care, whether in a clinic, hospital, nursing home, or other similar setting.
This raises an important question: if you develop a healthcare-associated infection, can you sue for medical malpractice? The answer, as it so often is in law, is that it depends.
Common Causes of Healthcare-Associated Infections
The IDPH points to the following six types of healthcare-associated infections as among the most important:
- Bloodstream infections caused by central lines. Central lines are tubes inserted into a large vein to deliver fluids or medicine. Dangerous bacteria can use the central line to infect a patient’s bloodstream, a problem that causes around 14,000 deaths every year nationwide.
- Surgical site infections. Surgical site infections are infections that occur in an area on the body where surgery has been performed. Improperly sanitized gloves and tools may introduce bacteria to the site, or bacteria may already exist on the patient’s skin.
- Urinary tract infections caused by urinary catheters. Urinary catheters are tubes that connect to the bladder to drain urine. Bacteria may use the catheter to enter a patient’s body and infect part of the urinary tract. The IDPH reports that these kinds of infections are the most common healthcare-associated infection.
- Pneumonia caused by mechanical ventilators. Mechanical ventilators help patients breathe through a tube inserted in a patient’s throat. As with the other tubes described above, this presents an opportunity for bacteria to enter and infect the patient’s body—in this case, the lungs. This kind of infection is the deadliest healthcare-associated infection.
- Clostridium difficile ( difficile). C. difficile is a bacterium that can cause fatal diarrhea. It may exist naturally and harmlessly in a person’s intestines, but can wreak havoc in the presence of antibiotics that kill the good bacteria that keep C. difficile in check.
- Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is sometimes called a “superbug,” because it isn’t killed by common antibiotics. MRSA infections can be deadly and are difficult to treat.
When a Healthcare-Associated Infection Signals Malpractice
Recall that medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, hospital, or other healthcare provider fails to abide by the standard of care that applies in a particular field of medicine, and a patient suffers an injury or damages because of that.
Regarding healthcare-associated infections, that might occur if, for example, a doctor fails to wash his or her hands before coming into contact with a patient, and the patient develops an infection as a result. Or it could happen if an infection spreads from a dirty syringe, scalpel, or other medical tool or device.
In short, preventing healthcare-associated infections is often a simple matter of good hygiene. Because they can so often be easily avoided, such infections will frequently be a sign that medical personnel are not following the proper sanitization procedures.
If you’ve developed an infection while visiting a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facility, contact the attorneys at Costa Ivone to help determine whether your infection is a sign of medical malpractice and obtain the compensation you deserve.