Experienced Attorneys Representing People Exposed to Deadly Hospital Infections, HAIs

How do patients acquire infections from supposedly sterile conditions at medical facilities?

Hospitals are supposed to be places where sick people go to get well. Unfortunately, there are times that patients acquire infections at a hospital or medical practice, or from a medical device. There is always a risk of a patient acquiring an infection when medical practitioners or medical device manufacturers do not follow sterile policies, procedures and protocols. Simple things like washing your hands before touching a patient, putting on sterile gloves and gowns in certain situations, and many other types of common sense sterile practices may not be followed or simply ignored by medical professionals. When this occurs, bad things happen.

Some of these types of infections are referred to as “healthcare associated infections,” or “hospital acquired infections”: HAIs, for short. When the infection is discovered and treated quickly and effectively, some people recover from the pathogen. Other times the patient can suffer for months or years, and may even die from the preventable infection. McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC is currently handling cases involving outbreaks of deadly infections. We represent people in filed actions against a medical practice in Columbia, a hospital in Greenville, a medical device manufacturer from Germany, and are currently investigating an outbreak at a hospital in Charleston.

What are mycobacteria infections?

HAIs can belong to a class of mycobacteria called non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM). There are hundreds of types of infections that are categorized as NTM, including:

  • Mycobacterium abscessus,
  • Mycobacterium chimaera,
  • Mycobacterium fortuitum,
  • Mycobacterium avian

These types of bacteria have become more prevalent in recent years. Mycobacterium chimaera and abscessus have been in the news recently as some of the NTMs that have caused the deaths of multiple people who underwent surgical procedures involving Sorin 3-T Heater-Coolers in open chest procedures (heart bypass, heart valve replacement, transplants, etc.). Multiple facilities in South Carolina and many other facilities in the United States have experienced outbreaks of NTMs in patients who have undergone breast surgery, lumbar punctures and steroid injections, among other procedures. These cases stretch back as far as 2008.

How were the bacterial outbreaks discovered and reported?

A hospital or medical facility is required to report more rare types of infections which occur at their facility. Medical device manufacturers may notice a cluster of infections in patients who have undergone medical procedures where their product was used in providing care to these patients. In 2012, the USC Specialty Clinic in Columbia, South Carolina discovered that a number of patients had acquired mycobacterium abscessus. It is thought that inpatients were exposed to the infection through a contaminated injectable stored beside a sink where M. Abscessus was found. Water splashing up, or the aerosolizing of the water mist settling on supposedly sterile medical instruments, is believed to contributed to this outbreak. Our firm represented claimants in this matter and the case has been resolved.

In 2014, Greenville Hospital systems discovered that a number of patients had died, and some became ill for an extended period of time, due to M. abscessus. Most the folks exposed are thought to have contracted this deadly pathogen from the aerosolizing and contamination of a supposedly sterile surgical suite by a heater-cooler medical device. Our firm represented the family of the one of the deceased individuals who contracted M. abscessus at the Greenville Hospital and that matter has been resolved.

From 2104-15, the medical device maker, Sorin USA, concluded that their heater cooler devices may have been infecting heart patients for years from different NTMs, including, but limited to, M. chimaera and M. abscessus. Our firm currently has cases pending against the medical device maker in the United States District Court for the State of South Carolina. We are also working with attorneys in other states to identify and help litigate their cases.

In 2016, it appears that Roper Hospital in Charleston discovered that a number of patients had been exposed to and contracted mycobacterium fortuitum. In July of 2016, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 15 cases of NTM surgical site infections at Roper Hospital. By October 15, 2016, that number had grown to 28 potential cases. The CDC was then called in to assess the scope of the problem. The CDC identified one case from 2014, eight cases from 2015, and thirteen cases in 2016 as suffering from M. fortuitim related to exposure of this deadly pathogen at Roper Hospital. Nineteen of the exposed patients were breast-related surgeries, two were port replacements and one was an abdominal hernia repair. We are currently obtaining information for patients from the CDC and Roper Hospital to ascertain whether there is merit to bring a claim against the hospital for this outbreak. Per The Post and Courier, a total of 27 women who have undergone surgical procedures “at Roper Hospital in 2016 and 2017 developed a bacterial infection that required them to undergo more surgery and months of antibiotic treatment.”

What causes an outbreak of non-tuberculous mycobacteria?

There are many different reasons why an outbreak of mycobacteria infections can occur at a facility. In the Roper Hospital situation, the CDC supposedly discovered that at least one door that led from a sterile room to an operating room did not exhibit the proper pressure, which could have allowed the bacteria to spread. The more disconcerting finding, however, is that “several lapses in infection control practices were noted” by CDC officials – lapses committed by employees and some staff at the Roper facilities. These lapses included:

  • Wearing jewelry in the OR
  • Not properly covering one’s hair
  • High traffic volume in and out of the OR
  • Allowing unscrubbed visitors in and out of the OR, who stood too closely to the sterile field
  • Improperly changing gloves
  • Not securing masks when entering the OR
  • Using sutures dropped below the sterile field
  • Placing one’s back to the sterile field
  • Utilizing flash sterilization

In short, there were multiple breaches in protocol in a surgical procedure. Despite medical errors now being the third leading cause of death in this country, it appears that personnel at Roper failed to follow common sense protocols that keep us all safe.

Equally horrific is the finding that the main water supply going to the Roper hospital appears to be teeming with bacteria. According to the CDC report, the water distribution system contains high levels of harmful and deadly mycobacteria.

This is but one example of a particular hospital dealing with a dangerous, and potentially deadly, outbreak. Many of the HAI cases derive from lack of systemic control and breaches of common sense sterile procedure.

Mycobacteria abscessus has had devastating effects on patients in SC

While Roper is contending with an outbreak of the pathogen M. fortuitim, the pathogen M. abscessus was the biological culprit in the USC School of Medicine cases (sink exposure to medical instruments: see above), the Greenville Hospital System cases (medical device sterile protocol may have been contributing factor of causing infection) and some of the Sorin Heater-Cooler medical device cases. The patients who are exposed to these dangerous and deadly infections and actually contract the pathogen can suffer severe damages. Most of the victims of the USC Medical School exposure case had to undergo years-long care, which cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Many of the patients at Greenville Memorial hospital died as a result of the exposure to and contraction of M. abscessus.

Why did it take so long to discover the bacteria?

Many mycobacteria have a very long incubation period – in some cases, up to six years – before victims begin exhibiting any symptoms. Furthermore, unless a doctor takes a culture, he or she may not be able to accurately diagnose the infection: the symptoms may be similar to the flu. A contaminated medical device or injection, as per the CDC, are the most common ways to transmit the infection.

If you were infected with NTM at a Roper or USC hospital

If you have had any kind of procedure at a Roper facility, or any other hospital or medical practice, and have developed an infection, you may have a cause of action for medical negligence. The bacteria are stubborn and resistant to certain kinds of antibiotics, and if a doctor fails to diagnose the infection, your life could be at risk.

Our medical malpractice attorneys know how to win these types of cases

McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC is currently accepting cases from patients who have undergone medical procedures at a hospital and acquired an infection or has been exposed to NTM by a medical device (usually due to procedure at a hospital). We know what the stakes are when it comes to these bacteria, and we will fight for your rights in courtrooms here in South Carolina and across the country. To find out more about our firm, or to speak with an experienced South Carolina medical malpractice attorney, please call 888-302-7546, or fill out our contact form. Let us help you protect yourself, your family, and your future.

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