Ten critically-ill infants at a neonatal intensive care unit at UCI were infected with a lethal bacteria over the course of eight months, according to an article published in the Los Angeles Times. None of the infants have died, hospital officials said. UCI doctors, however, have not found the source of the infections, which apparently continued even after 220 employees used antiseptic soap and ointment to eliminate bacteria on their skin and in their noses. Information about these infections were not made public despite the fact that Orange County health officials have known about them since mid-December.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of doctors' mistakes, contact our Orange County medical malpractice lawyers for a free consultation.
Outbreak Not Disclosed to Public
County officials told the Times that they did not notify the public about this outbreak because they had no evidence that infants being treated at UCI's neonatal unit were at a higher risk than infants admitted elsewhere. UCI officials said they did not believe it was necessary to alert families preparing to have labor and deliveries at the hospital of the ongoing outbreak because they had isolated infected patients in one of the two intensive care units for infants.
The 10 affected babies at UCI tested positive for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA. This superbug could be potentially lethal for premature infants. A study found that 26 percent of infants infected with MRSA while in the intensive care unit died. Hospital officials say they have made an effort to prevent more infections using measures that exceed or meet industry practices. They said they have also been disclosing the outbreak in a letter to parents of all infants in intensive care.
What is an MRSA Infection?
An MRSA infection is caused by a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to many of the antibiotics that are commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections. A majority of MRSA infections occur in people who have been in hospitals or other healthcare settings such as nursing homes and dialysis centers. In such healthcare settings, MRSA infections are usually associated with invasive procedures or devices such as surgeries, intravenous tubing and artificial joints.
An MRSA infection generally tends to start as swollen, painful red bumps that look like boils or spider bites. The affected area may be warm to the touch and be filled with pus. These can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that might require surgical draining. In some cases, the bacteria remain confined to the skin. But they could also burrow deep into the body causing potentially lethal infections in surgical wounds, bones, joints, heart valves and lungs.
Some of the risk factors for MRSA include:
- Being hospitalized. MRSA remains a major concern in hospitals where it can affect those who are most vulnerable – older adults and people with weakened immune systems.
- Having an invasive medical device such as catheters or intravenous lines. These types of medical tubing can provide a pathway for MRSA to travel into the patient's body.
- Living in a long-term care facility. MRSA is prevalent in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Carriers of MRSA have the ability to spread it even if they are not themselves sick.
Preventing MRSA Infections
Here are some of the steps hospitals and healthcare workers take to prevent these MRSA infections:
- Clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer before and after caring for every patient.
- Carefully clean hospital rooms and all medical equipment, particularly those that are used for invasive procedures.
- Use precautions to prevent contact with other patients by isolating those who have been infected with MRSA. Patients with MRSA should be given a separate room or share a room only with another infected patient. Visitors must be asked to wear a gown and gloves. Infected patients should be asked to stay in their rooms as much as possible.
- Do skin tests on patients to determine if they have MRSA on their skin. This test involves rubbing a cotton-tipped swab in the patient's nostrils or on the skin.
Responsibility of Hospitals
Hospitals have a responsibility to warn patients about the risk of infections before a patient begins treatment. This is especially true for a patient that is especially prone to staph infections, such as a surgical patient. A hospital could be held liable for a staph infection even when the infection was not preventable. If the hospital knew or should have known of a high risk of infection to a particular patient, it should have given the patient an opportunity to opt out of the treatment. A hospital can also be held liable if it failed to diagnose or treat the infection in a timely manner. Staph infections could also occur as a result of mistakes made during surgery, as a result of improper handling of instruments or failure to sterilize hands or clothing.
Elements of a Medical Malpractice Case
Medical malpractice refers to professional negligence by the hospital or its staff whose actions have causes physical, emotional and/or monetary damage to a patient under its care. A medical malpractice lawsuit could include physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals. In a medical malpractice case, just as with any type of personal injury case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. The four elements of a medical malpractice case are as follows:
Duty: The plaintiff must prove that the hospital or medical professional owed a duty of care to the patient. Often, the duty is to provide an accepted standard of care.
Breach of duty: This is when the medical professional breaches the duty of care that is owed to the patient. For example, when a staff member fails to follow the appropriate cleaning procedure or fails to sanitize instruments or medical tubing, that constitutes a breach of duty.
Damages: The breach should have caused damages to the patient such as physical injuries and monetary damages.
Causation: The damages suffered by the patient must have been directly caused by the breach of duty on the part of the medical professional.
Compensation for Affected Victims
Victims of medical negligence can seek compensation for damages including medical expenses, lost wages, hospitalization, cost of surgeries and procedures, rehabilitation, past and future pain and suffering and emotional distress. An experienced Irvine Personal Injury Lawyer can help fight for your rights and help you secure maximum compensation for your losses.