New babies are extremely vulnerable to infection, both in the womb, during birth and soon thereafter. With our advances in technology and medicine, our health care professionals often know how to treat and sometimes even prevent these conditions, and it is their duty to do so where possible.
At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, we understand that both maternal infections and neonatal infections can cause serious damage to a newborn. But we do not buy the often-used defense argument these outcomes are inevitable.
While defense expert witnesses will testify in these cases that an infant’s adverse neurological damage couldn’t be prevented, our aggressive, knowledgeable legal team will be prepared to show that either:
- Infection didn’t cause the injury;
- Infection wouldn’t have caused such damage had it been diagnosed and treated timely and properly;
- Other reasonable clinicians have determined diagnosis and effective treatment under the conditions presented was achievable.
In order to do this successfully, we will need to investigate whether:
- Health care provider conducted proper fetal monitoring tests prior to birth;
- Health care provider identified and properly managed fetal distress;
- Brain damage/ other adverse outcomes may have been prevented with earlier delivery or adequate diagnosis and/or treatment of infection or other conditions.
This involves first clearly identifying the kind of infection we’re dealing with. Some infections may obtain the infection from the mother, while others may acquire it due to improper care or sanitation after birth, while still in the hospital. Doctors and other health care providers should have ample knowledge and resources to prevent, identify and properly treat both.Maternal Infections
Not all maternal illnesses or infections will result in injury or lasting damage. For example, the common cold is generally harmless to fetuses. Further, most medical experts know antibodies in the maternal blood block most infections from being transmitted to the baby.
There are, however, a number of other infections that may cause great harm if untreated. In the earlier stages of pregnancy, infection can result in severe birth defects or miscarriage. In other cases, it may result in preterm labor, fetal or neonatal death or serious illness for newborns.
Perinatal transmission of infection – which occurs as the child is being born – occurs after the rupture of protective membranes, at which time fetus is exposed to mother’s blood. Transmission of illness may be more likely if the child is born too early.
Some of the more common maternal infections known to cause harm include:
- Group B Strep. This is a bacterial infection that is well-known to clinicians, as it affects at least a quarter of all healthy women. It is located in the vaginal, gastrointestinal and rectal area, and it can result in severe complications if passed to the infant. Those may include sepsis, pneumonia, brain injuries and even death. Although there are no symptoms, the standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics are that all new mothers between 35 and 37 weeks should be tested for the condition. Treatment generally involves antibiotics to the mother. An infant born with this condition usually develops symptoms in the first 24 hours to the first week of life.
- Hepatitis B Virus. This is a viral infection transmitted through bodily fluids that attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic illness. According to research published in the Journal of Hepatology, extremely dangerous for newborns, as there is a 90 percent chance of developing some type of long-term health issue, including severe liver damage. Vaccination can be administered prior to birth, and great precautions have to be taken during delivery to ensure the virus isn’t passed along during childbirth.
- Chicken Pox. Although it’s generally thought of as a mild childhood illness, this virus, varicella, can be very dangerous to an unborn child. A pregnant woman who has never been vaccinated should receive a shot to prevent harm to the baby, including development of congenital varicella syndrome, characterized by low birth weight, growth delays, skin abnormalities and deformities of the arms, legs and/or fingers and toes.
- Rubella. Sometimes called the “German Measles,” this used to be a common disease among children. However, vaccinations have greatly slashed the rate. Still, pregnant women should be tested to ensure immunity to the virus. If mother contracts this virus while pregnant, it could result in brain injury, cerebral palsy, congenital heart diseases, diabetes and even stillbirth.
- Urinary Tract Infection. These are common bacterial infections in the bladder or urethra, usually noted for painful burning when expelling urine. If it’s properly treated, a UTI should have no effect on child. However, if it is untreated, the infection can spread to kidneys which may result in preterm labor, which is associated with a host of health problems for baby.
- Toxoplasmosis. This is a kind of parasitic infection caused by parasites in cat feces, soil and undercooked meats. It’s the reason pregnant women should never change the cat litter box and always thoroughly wash hands and cook meats completely. Doctors may treat toxoplasmosis with antibiotics, both before and after birth. Failure to treat may cause infant to suffer cognitive disabilities, blindness and hearing loss.
- Listeriosis. This is a bacterial infection typically caused when mother eats foods or drinks water contaminated with the bacteria. Usually, this is food that isn’t properly cleaned, cooked or pasteurized. Babies with the condition are generally treated with antibiotics.
There are some infections that could be either passed on from the mother or contracted in the hospital shortly after birth. These are sometimes referred to as “nosocomial infections.” As the Merck Manual notes, babies who are premature or have other disorders requiring prolonged hospitalization are most at risk.
Some of these conditions may include:
- E. Coli – Bacteria that can lead to urinary tract infection, meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis.
- Meningitis – Characterized by inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, it can be caused by viruses, fungi or bacteria. Newborns often acquire it either during birth or form their immediate surroundings.
- Blood stream infections – Associated when babies require the use of central venous catheters.
Preventative measures include:
- Meticulous cleaning and sterilization;
- Proper techniques and monitoring of invasive devices, which include disinfecting and sterilization of equipment;
- Raising the head of an intubated baby by 30- to 40- degrees (reduces the risk of pneumonia);
- Constant and rigorous handwashing by health care personnel.
It should also be noted that infection and sepsis account for 14 percent of all maternal pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If your child has suffered as a result of a neonatal infection, contact us today to learn more about whether you may have legal recourse.