September is Sepsis Awareness Month, according to the nonprofit Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis is a condition in which the body overreacts to an infection, causing further, sometimes fatal, complications. In the United States, there are more than 1.7 million cases of sepsis each year, and more than 270,000 Americans die from it annually, making it the third leading cause of death.
Sepsis, sometimes called septicemia or blood poisoning, can occur while a patient is hospitalized or while he or she is in the community. Although up to 87% of sepsis cases occur outside of the hospital, among individuals who die in a hospital, fully one-third have sepsis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When sepsis is caused by the negligence of medical personnel, a patient may have a claim for medical malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is injured because his or her doctor, nurse, or other medical professional fails to satisfy the standard of care that the law requires of him or her.
Article at a Glance
- Sepsis refers to the body’s overreaction to a bacterial or viral infection, leading the immune system to begin damaging the body’s tissues and organs.
- Symptoms of sepsis include an abnormally high or low body temperature, fast heart rate or respiratory rate, mental decline, and extreme pain or discomfort.
- When sepsis is caused or exacerbated by a medical professional’s negligent care, Ohio law entitles the injured patient to recover through a medical malpractice lawsuit.
What is Sepsis?
Sepsis is the body’s extreme overreaction to an infection. An infection occurs when bacteria or viruses enter the body, proliferate, and cause harm. A person can become infected by bacteria or viruses in any number of ways, including:
- Eating contaminated food;
- Failing to wash your hands after using the bathroom or before eating; or
- Having a scrape, scratch, or open wound.
When you have an infection, your body’s immune system takes steps to eliminate it. But, in some circumstances, your body’s response to an infection can cause as much harm as good. In effect, your immune system may begin damaging your body’s tissues and organs in addition to the infection. That’s sepsis.
Sepsis cases range from mild to severe. Severe sepsis can lead to septic shock—a condition in which blood pressure becomes extremely low. According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly half of all septic shock cases are fatal. The key to treating sepsis is to obtain medical attention as soon as possible after symptoms develop.
Doctors treat sepsis using antibiotics. These antibiotics help your immune system fight off the initial infection. Doctors may use other treatments as well to help alleviate the symptoms of sepsis.
What are the Symptoms of Sepsis?
According to the CDC, the symptoms of sepsis include the presence of an infection and:
- A high heart rate;
- An abnormally high or low temperature;
- Confusion, disorientation, or other mental decline;
- Difficulty breathing;
- Extreme pain or discomfort; and
- “Clammy” or sweaty skin.
The Sepsis Alliance summarizes these symptoms using a mnemonic device, TIME:
- Mental decline
- Extremely ill
The organization advises: “Watch for a combination of these symptoms. If you suspect sepsis, see a doctor urgently, CALL 911 or go to a hospital.”
Sepsis and Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, nurse, or other health-care professional or organization fails to adhere to the standard of care required by Ohio law, and that failure injures a patient. Not every negative medical outcome is medical malpractice. What matters are the acts or omissions of health-care providers, not necessarily outcomes.
Even so, sepsis may be the result of medical malpractice. For example, a patient may have a medical malpractice claim against a hospital, doctor, or nurse if the patient becomes infected and develops sepsis as the result of:
- Unsanitary conditions in a hospital, doctor’s office, or nursing home;
- Improperly cleaned medical utensils or equipment;
- Improperly maintained HVAC systems that allow bacteria to spread through the air; or
- A misdiagnosis of an infection or sepsis, leading to inadequate treatment.
As a general rule, it can be difficult to prove that lack of sanitary conditions in a facility were the definitive cause of sepsis in a patient. However, it may be the case that a lack of timely diagnosis, or failure to identify early signs of sepsis in a patient, resulted in advancement of the condition and were therefore the fault of the medical practitioners.
A prevailing plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit is entitled to recover medical malpractice damages for his or her medical expenses, including the costs of drugs and medical devices, lost wages resulting from his or her injury, and pain and suffering, among others.
However, Ohio imposes a short statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims. In general, if a person does not file a medical malpractice lawsuit within one year of when his or her injury occurred, then that person will lose the right to file a lawsuit at all, even if his or her case is strong.
Contact Our Ohio Sepsis Attorneys
Medical malpractice claims in Ohio are among the most complicated types of personal injury claims. They nearly always require expert testimony to show that a health-care professional has not satisfied the standard of care, and that that failure caused a person’s injury. And, of course, the doctor or other medical professional on the other side of the case will be represented by sophisticated defense lawyers.
As a consequence, it is critical to work closely with an experienced Ohio medical malpractice attorney when considering a medical malpractice lawsuit. And, given the strict time limits involved in filing a medical malpractice claim in Ohio, that should be done sooner rather than later.