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Infectious diseases can cause devastating life-long injuries if they are not promptly diagnosed and treated. Young children and babies are particularly vulnerable to infections such as meningitis and herpes encephalitis. If you or your child has suffered from an infectious disease you may be able to claim substantial financial compensation if there has been sub-standard medical care that has led you or your child to suffer from an avoidable injury. Click here to read about the specialist medical negligence services our team of experts provides.
What is an infectious disease?
Infectious diseases kill more people worldwide than any other single cause. They are caused by organisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. Many of these live either in or on our bodies and are usually harmless and can even be beneficial. However, others can cause a wide range of diseases.
Infectious diseases can be spread through the direct transfer of bacteria, viruses or other germs. They may also be spread through the air by droplets when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes leading to small droplets containing infectious agents travelling through the air. Or they can be spread by touching the nose or mouth with droplet-contaminated hands.
There are a whole range of infectious diseases, some of which are far more serious than others and some which are more common in different areas of the world.
Common infectious diseases in the UK
In the UK, common forms of infectious diseases include:-
This is a bacterial form of meningitis involving a serious infection of the thin lining which surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It can cause severe brain damage and is often fatal if untreated. The most common symptoms are a stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting. It may also take the form of meningococcal scepticaemia, which is characterised by a rash and rapid circulatory collapse.
Initial diagnosis of meningococcal meningitis can be made by clinical examination followed by lumbar puncture. The diagnosis is supported or confirmed by growing the bacteria from specimens of spinal fluid or blood or by other tests. Meningococcal disease is potentially fatal and should always be viewed as a medical emergency. A range of antibiotics can be used to treat the infection, but appropriate treatment must be started as soon as possible.
Encephalitis is a rare but serious condition in which the brain becomes swollen. It can be life threatening and requires urgent treatment in hospital. Although everyone can be affected by this, the most vulnerable, namely the very young and elderly, are most at risk.
Encephalitis sometimes starts with flu like symptoms like having a high temperature or a headache but these may not always occur.
There are various possible causes of encephalitis. These may include:-
- Viral infections which include the herpes simplex virus and chicken pox virus;
- A problem with the bodies own immune system;
- Bacterial or fungal infections.
Encephalitis needs to be investigated and treated urgently. There are various different types of treatment which might apply. For example, encephalitis resulting from the herpes simplex virus may be treated effectively with an anti viral drug. However, early diagnosis and treatment is important to avoid or reduce any long term damage.
Hospital acquired diseases
A hospital acquired infection is usually one that first appears a few days after a patient is admitted to a hospital or other health care facility.
There are various causes of such infections including bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. These micro-organisms may already be present on the surface or within the body of a patient or may come from the environment or possibly contaminated hospital equipment, healthcare workers or from other patients.
Such infections may be either localised attaching to a specific part of the body or may be more extensive.
Such infections may develop from certain procedures. Common types of hospital-acquired infections are urinary tract infections, pneumonia and surgical wound infections.
Surgical procedures increase the risk of a patient acquiring an infection given that the surgery may provide a means of access enabling bacteria into what might otherwise be sterile parts of the body.
In order to diagnose a hospital-acquired infection, it is necessary amongst other things to consider the symptoms and signs of an infection, an examination of the wounds and possible entry sites and review of the procedures that might have led to an infection. Often antibiotics are effective against such infections.
This is also known as mucocutaneous lymphnode syndrome. It is a disease in which blood vessels throughout the body can become inflamed. Diagnosis is usually based on a person’s signs and symptoms. It occurs predominantly in infants and young children. Coronary artery aneurysms and other complications can often develop which may lead to myocardial infection, sudden death or ischaemic heart disease. The benefits of providing intravenous immunoglobulin administered in the acute phase of Kawasaki Disease in reducing development of coronary artery aneurysms is well established also possibly coupled with the administration of aspirin.
We are currently representing a child who has issued proceedings claiming compensation against an NHS Trust seeking compensation for substantial personal injury and complications resulting from delay in diagnosing and treating Kawasaki Disease.
Small pox is an acute, contagious disease. It was formerly one of the world’s most devastating diseases. However, following a global campaign of surveillance and vaccination, it is now much rarer for it to be diagnosed in this country. Despite this, as set out in more detail below, we have in the past successfully recovered compensation on behalf of a client who acquired smallpox following the outbreak of smallpox in the 1960’s. As the Claimant was deemed to have lacked capacity to manage her affairs in the intervening period, there was no time limit preventing her from pursuing a claim for damages.
Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus which is spread from person to person through droplets in the air. It may lead to serious complications and may affect anyone if they have not been vaccinated. It is most common in young children and young unvaccinated adults.
Early symptoms of measles include fever, coughing and sore eyes. A rash usually appears several days later. Contracting measles can cause severe complications, including in pregnancy.
How might such a disease be diagnosed?
As indicated above, there are many different types of infectious diseases, some of which may have similar, the same or different symptoms. Some may be more prevalent in the very young or elderly and often left untreated may have significant ramifications, particularly when having been contracted by vulnerable patients.
In the event that people seek advice or reassurance from Health Care Providers, they are required to consider the possibility that such an infection may have been acquired and to consider the possible need for referral or further enquiries to be undertaken as well as the possible benefits of prescribing any medication or other treatment.
Often the possibility of providing prophylactic treatment (preventative or precautionary) just in case should be considered. However, this may need to be balanced against whether there might be any contraindications for providing any possible medication. In cases where the potential ramifications may be serious, it may be necessary for an urgent referral to hospital and then for various enquiries and investigations to then be undertaken as a matter of urgency. In addition, it may also be necessary to carry out various screening tests, including possibly a lumbar puncture to analyse the cerebral spinal fluid and whether this might provide an indication of the possibility of any infection.
How might negligence arise?
In general terms, it may transpire that a Health Care Professional, for example a GP or a Hospital when having been consulted or having examined a patient, may have failed in their legal duty to consider or investigate the possibility that a patient may have acquired such an infection. This may be because they failed to consider the possibility altogether or if they did, failed to provide appropriate medication, or to refer, or promptly refer a patient for further enquiries. It may also include (as involved a case in which we have recently been involved) the alleged failure of a GP, when having been asked to examine a patient, to provide any follow-up or safety netting advice.
Such negligence or alleged breach of duty as it is also known, can involve claims against the NHS who manage and administer Hospital Trusts in this Country or against private hospitals or independent Consultants, Care Homes or other medically qualified persons for having failed in their duty to consider concerns and symptoms expressed by or on behalf of a patient or resident and to then instigate appropriate enquiries and investigations which, had they been carried out, might have led to an earlier diagnosis.
Further, it will also be necessary to establish whether as a consequence of such negligence, had the Health Care Provider acted appropriately and had then appropriate treatment been provided in a promptly and appropriate manner, then the patient would not otherwise have sustained such an infection or alternatively such injury may have been materially less severe.
What needs to be investigated?
In order to establish whether any negligence or breach of duty may have occurred, it is usually necessary to undertake various enquiries. These include:-
- Requesting disclosure of all necessary medical records;
- Consider these records very carefully. This will involve not only preparing a detailed chronology in which we would highlight what appear to be any key issues and also identify any records which are missing;
- We will take factual witness statements from the proposed Claimants and/or members of his/her family and other persons who may have recollections of the relevant events;
- We will then invariably need to instruct appropriate experts in order to consider the relevant records, witness evidence and determine whether they consider there has been any breach of duty or negligence as well as whether such matters were causative, i.e. materially caused any loss or injury. Such experts are likely to include all, or a combination of, experts in infectious diseases, (including where appropriate those having particular expertise in dealing with paediatric infections), Microbiologists and Virologists.
Due to our experience in relation to having represented numerous Claimants who have acquired such infectious diseases, we have an extensive database of leading experts in the country in this complex area of medicine, most of whom we know and have seen first hand as well as having read reports they have prepared.
What experience do we have of investigating such claims?
We have a specialist department who solely undertake work dealing with these types of claims. Amongst other things, this includes no fewer than 5 people who are accredited as specialists as being members of the Law Society Clinical Negligence Panel and/or referral panel members of Action against Victims of Medical Accidents (AvMA).
Although included within our website are examples of such cases, including ‘Delayed Diagnosis of Listeria Meningitis; Failure to Immunise against Hepatitis B; Pneumonia kills man following early discharge from hospital”, the team have extensive experience of successfully recovering compensation on behalf of clients who have often suffered serious injuries as a consequence of negligence after having contracted infectious diseases. Such examples include:-
- Acting for an adult Claimant who has no speech, requires 24-hour care, has ongoing risk of epilepsy, walks with difficulty, is doubly incontinent and will always lack capacity. Although her GP examined her at home, it is alleged that he failed to take an adequate history, perform an adequate examination and provide appropriate advice. This included failure to provide any follow-up advice, which was mandatory. It was further alleged that, had there been provision for follow-up, the Claimant’s mother would have contacted the GP and/or his surgery and, had there been such contact, she would have been referred to hospital where she would have been admitted for observation, investigation and appropriate treatment and that she would have made a full recovery following treatment with intravenous broad spectrum antibiotics. The claim was resolved shortly before trial on the basis that the Claimant was entitled to recover substantial damages.
- We were instructed to represent a child who was born in 2005 and who developed normally until he was about 8 months old. Unfortunately, he then became unwell. He was noted to be very hot to touch with an elevated temperature. As a precaution, he was taken to then A & E department of the local hospital but was later discharged with advice given to his mother to check his temperature, give regular Paracetamol, keep him well hydrated and to come back if he was unwell or had a fever or rash and that more general follow-up care was provided by his GP.
- Unfortunately, the Claimant’s care deteriorated. His mother contacted the family’s GP out of hours service and the person assessing him on the telephone indicated that it appeared that the Claimant had a viral infection and he should continue to be given regular Ibuprofen and Paracetamol. Concern with regard to the Claimant’s condition remained and subsequently when examined at the GP Practice, it was considered necessary for the Claimant to be admitted to hospital as a paediatric emergency. Meningo-encephalitis was subsequently diagnosed and the Claimant now has microcephaly, abnormal tone, global development delay, senso-neural hearing loss as well as symptomatic epilepsy. In the proceedings that followed, it was alleged that the Claimant had a bacterial infection with streptococcus pneumonia. This originally gave rise to a bactaeremia causing his brain damage, which could and should have been detected and treated before damaging meningitis occurred.
- Terms of settlement were agreed shortly before the liability trial entitling the Claimant to recover substantial compensation.
- We represented a Claimant who when only aged 23 days became unwell with a fever and rapid eye movement. He was visited by a doctor who made a record of occasional vomiting and prescribed allergy medication. In the early hours of the following morning, a doctor from the deputising service was called to examine the Claimant, noted that he had a high fever and diagnosed earache and prescribed eye drops and Penicillin. The next evening, a further doctor was called to examine the Claimant and recorded that he was suffering from a fever. The next day the Claimant’s father took him to the surgery. He was not feeding and there was a record that his anterior fontanelle was bulging. He was then admitted to the local hospital where investigation revealed that he had a high temperature and a cloudy cerebrospinal fluid. He was then treated with antibiotics and a diagnosis of listeria meningitis was made.
- Terms of settlement were eventually agreed entitling the Claimant to recover substantial compensation against one of the doctors.
- We represented a Claimant who was 45 years at the time the claim was resolved, who, when aged about 6 months, suffered from febrile convulsions and was admitted to the local children’s hospital in 1961. It was believed that this was a reaction to vaccination with a triple vaccine. Following a local outbreak of smallpox the following year, a vaccination programme was implemented and whilst the Claimant’s parents attended a clinic to be vaccinated from contracting this disease, the Claimant was left in the care of two young people who spoke very little English and were visited by a Medical Officer who vaccinated both these women and also the Claimant. This was even though her parents would not have consented as they were concerned that it would have a detrimental effect upon her propensity to have convulsions. As it transpired, the Claimant suffered very serious injuries, which, it was alleged, were as a consequence of having been vaccinated, including severe hemiplegic brain damage.
- Following negotiations between the parties, the Claimant was able to recover significant damages.
- We are currently representing a Claimant who has sustained profound injuries after having contracted herpes simplex encephalitis with hemiplegia. It is alleged that the Defendant Hospital Trust acted negligently, having failed to admit the Claimant when he was admitted to the A & E hospital for blood tests and observation and that, had he been assessed and treated appropriately, he is likely to have recovered without any or any substantial insignificant injury.
- We are currently representing a Claimant who sustained significant brain injury caused by Group B haemolytic streptococcus meningitis. The infection is thought likely to have been acquired during the passage of the Claimant through her mother’s birth canal. Amongst other things, it is alleged that, had an appropriate paediatric assessment been undertaken, including investigations to include metabolic derangement and sepsis, precautionary intravenous antibiotics would have been commenced and ongoing specialist observation would have been carried out. The Claimant would have then recovered without having sustained any or any significant permanent damage.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from an infectious disease and you have concerns about the medical treatment provided and would like to speak with a member of the Minton Morrill clinical negligence team, please call on 0113 245 8549 or contact us through this link.
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