When Are Necrotizing Fasciitis and MRSA Infection Cases Valid Medical Malpractice Claims?

When you go to the hospital, your expectation is to be properly treated for a pre-existing illness, not to develop further complications. In recent years, however, hospital-acquired infections have become an increasing risk to patients’ health. Necrotizing fasciitis and MRSA are some of the most potentially life-threatening infections patients can pick up in hospitals and it is vital that they are promptly identified and treated. Unfortunately, simply contracting one of these infections in a clinical setting is not enough to constitute a valid medical malpractice case. However, if a medical professional fails to identify or properly treat your infection in a timely manner once it has occurred, you should speak to an experienced Virginia Beach medical malpractice attorney from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp as soon as possible. 

What Is MRSA?

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria carried in the throats, nasal linings, and skin of about 30% of the population. To a healthy person, it is fairly harmless but can lead to minor infections, like boils. Unfortunately, if these bacteria make their way through an opening in the skin, such as a surgical incision, they can cause invasive and life-threatening infections, which, if left untreated, can lead to pneumonia, sepsis (blood poisoning), endocarditis, and urinary tract issues, and eventually septic shock. Septic shock is the body’s potentially fatal response to an infection. Just like a heart attack or stroke, it is a medical emergency that demands rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Sepsis and septic shock can develop from infections in any part of the body. 34% of all sepsis patients die. Those who survive are often left to deal with life-altering consequences, like chronic fatigue, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, amputations, and organ dysfunction.  

On rare occasions, MRSA can also lead to necrotizing fasciitis and, ultimately, death. 

How Does MRSA Spread?

MRSA spreads via physical contact with a person carrying the bacteria on their skin. It can also be spread by coming into contact with shared objects and surfaces such as towels, faucets, phones, and door knobs. MRSA spreads easily in medical facilities where a large number of patients are already susceptible to infection because of their recent surgery, wound, or illness, and others who have compromised immune systems.

What Symptoms Could Indicate MRSA?

If your skin is affected by MRSA, common symptoms include:  

  • Pain and tenderness
  • Redness
  • Localized inflammation
  • Pus

Suspected MRSA skin infections can be tested with a culture, the results of which should be available in 24 to 72 hours.

Symptoms of internal MRSA infections vary depending on the location but often include: 

  • Vertigo
  • Fever
  • Swelling and pain in the affected area
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches

Patients with infections in their joints, bones, lungs, or other areas will require imaging tests, such as echocardiograms, X-rays, and CT scans, along with blood tests. 

How is MRSA Treated?

The faster MRSA is recognized and treated, the greater the odds of a favorable outcome. MRSA is naturally resistant to most, but not all, antibiotics, making it challenging to treat. Once you are diagnosed with MRSA, a course of intravenous antibiotics will be administered, the type and dosage of which may change when the results of your lab culture come through. This treatment should be continued until the patient shows signs of improvement. In most cases, after being discharged from the hospital, continued intravenous or oral antibiotic use will be prescribed for anywhere from a few days to as long as eight weeks. For hospital patients who are colonized but not infected with MRSA, treatment will likely include chlorhexidine soap and mupirocin ointment.

When Can MRSA Be Attributed to Medical Negligence?

Hospital-acquired infections, such as MRSA, are not in and of themselves proof of medical malpractice. Cases in which MRSA may be viewed as arising from the negligence of a medical professional or facility are those involving:   

  • Improper disinfection or sterilization: Germs are ubiquitous in healthcare facilities. Due to this, hospitals have implemented rigorous disinfection and sterilization protocols designed to prevent MRSA and other staph infections. Failure to adhere to these safety protocols can leave a medical professional or facility liable for any infections in their patients. 
  • Surgical neglect:  Surgical patients incur a disproportionately high risk of developing MRSA. Surgeons and other healthcare workers are expected to uphold the medical standard of care and not make surgical errors that can lead to a serious staph infection.
  • Missed diagnosis/Misdiagnosis: Medical malpractice may have been committed if a patient’s MRSA infection was incorrectly diagnosed or if they were not promptly and properly treated, resulting in a worsened infection. Even though MRSA can be hard to identify, medical professionals have a duty to provide the necessary care and attention to patients at high risk of contracting the infection.

When negligence leads to MRSA, healthcare professionals or hospitals could be held liable for the resulting damages. One way to help prove such a case is to retain an infectious disease doctor and get an opinion as to whether there was a failure to detect or control an infection that led to MRSA. 

If you plan on pursuing legal action via a medical malpractice claim, work with a knowledgeable Virginia Beach medical malpractice attorney who has the experience necessary to fully investigate your case, determine the cause of your infection, and help you pursue maximum financial compensation.

What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis?

Although rare, necrotizing fasciitis is a potentially fatal bacterial infection. After it enters the body, it reproduces and spreads rapidly, releasing a substance that destroys the affected soft tissue and enters the bloodstream. If left untreated, the bacteria cause the victim’s vital organs to go into systemic shock, resulting in heart failure, respiratory failure, renal failure, and hypotension. Eventually, every bodily system fails and the patient dies.  

A variety of bacteria, including MRSA, can cause necrotizing fasciitis. These bacteria naturally exist in the skin, throat, and gut without issue. However, if they reach internal tissues through a wound, even one as small as a cut from shaving, they can quickly develop into necrotizing fasciitis.

How Does Necrotizing Fasciitis Spread?

These bacteria spread through contact with mucus or saliva from the throat, nose, or mouth of an infected individual, who may be asymptomatic. When the infected person sneezes or coughs, droplets containing the bacteria spray into the air, infecting those who either inhale the droplets or come into contact with contaminated surfaces, and then put their hands in their mouths, or touch their eyes or mucous membranes. These bacteria can also spread via close contact, such as kissing or sharing silverware, cups, vapes, or cigarettes. 

Some people have a greater risk of developing necrotizing fasciitis this way including those who have:

  • Open cuts, sores, or wounds
  • A body mass index of 30 or higher
  • Cancer
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Diabetes
  • Certain vascular or immune system issues
  • Pregnancy

What Symptoms Could Indicate Necrotizing Fasciitis?

Necrotizing fasciitis symptoms tend to develop rapidly, over days or sometimes mere hours. They are not always immediately obvious and often present as a less dire condition like the flu.

Symptoms in the first two days may include:

  • A tiny scratch or cut that has become disproportionately painful
  • A high fever
  • Flu-like symptoms

After three days, patients may experience additional symptoms such as:

  • Redness and painful swelling over the affected area
  • Dark spots turning into pus-filled blisters near the infection site 
  • Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting

If left untreated, necrotizing fasciitis can spread to the entire body and cause additional symptoms including vertigo, confusion, muscle weakness, and septic shock. 

Many infections present similar symptoms to the early stages of necrotizing fasciitis, which makes diagnosis challenging. Along with examining the infection or injury, necrotizing fasciitis can be diagnosed by:

  • Collecting tissue samples to be biopsied  
  • Getting a blood panel to check for signs of muscle damage and infection  
  • Performing diagnostic tests, such as ultrasounds, MRIs, and CT scans, on the affected area   

Early treatment can be the difference between life or death for an infected patient, so doctors should not wait for lab results if necrotizing fasciitis is suspected. 

How is Necrotizing Fasciitis Treated?

Immediate identification and treatment are critical to ensuring the health and survival of an infected patient. Antibiotics and surgery will both be necessary, as will:

  • Removal of the infected tissue to stop the infection from spreading. This process, known as debridement, should be repeated until all infected tissue has been removed.
  • The administration of intravenous antibiotics appropriate to the relevant bacteria
  • Patient may be placed in the facility’s intensive care unit
  • Delayed treatment or identification, or insufficient debridement could make amputation necessary

Liability in Cases of Necrotizing Fasciitis

To recover damages for medical malpractice related to necrotizing fasciitis, a Virginia Beach medical malpractice attorney will need to prove that it is more likely than not that: 

  • The defendant owed the victim a duty of care
  • The defendant breached this duty 
  • Due to the breach, the victim was injured
  • The victim’s injury caused them to incur monetary damages

One way that a doctor can breach their standard of care is by conducting an incorrect differential diagnosis. During this process, a medical professional draws up a list of possible diagnoses and then tests them, one at a time, to eliminate all but the correct one. A doctor can also breach their duty of care by administering the wrong antibiotic or dosage, not treating the infection with antibiotics in a timely matter once it has been diagnosed, or misinterpreting test results and incorrectly diagnosing the patient. Your attorney will need to work with a medical expert, such as an infectious disease doctor, in order to determine what the medical standard of care was; in other words, what a competent medical professional in the same field of medicine would have done under similar circumstances. An infectious disease expert witness is a healthcare professional who has experience and specialized knowledge in the management, treatment, and diagnosis of infectious diseases generated by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. They analyze data on the treatment and diagnosis of infectious diseases by collecting evidence via laboratory tests, medical records, and interviews with other medical professionals and patients. They then give their professional opinion in cases involving medical malpractice, transmission of diseases, outbreaks associated with infectious diseases, as well as the efficacy of any preventative measures that the defendant failed to use. 

Doctors should be aware of the potential for a diagnosis of necrotizing fasciitis and immediately order the aforementioned tests in order to identify and treat the affliction. Symptoms usually begin to manifest less than 24 hours after infection occurs.  

If liability can be established, the victim is entitled to recover compensatory damages, the nature and amount of which will depend on the severity of the infection and associated complications. For example, a patient may need life-saving surgery and be kept in the ICU before being subjected to an extensive and costly course of rehabilitation. In many medical malpractice cases arising from necrotizing fasciitis, victims can recover their medical bills, lost wages, and rehabilitation expenses, along with pain and suffering. A knowledgeable Virginia Beach medical malpractice attorney will be able to advise you on what damages you may be eligible for based on the specifics of your case. 

Wrongful Deaths

To establish a claim for wrongful death associated with necrotizing fasciitis, an attorney will have to show that: 

  • The defendant’s wrongful conduct caused the death
  • The death gives rise to a cause of action the victim could have pursued had they survived
  • Persons close to the deceased endured psychological harm and damages were incurred by the estate. 

In Virginia, only the executor of the deceased’s estate can file a wrongful death claim. Any damages awarded will be distributed in accordance with Virginia’s intestate laws on the allocation of estate assets. Recoverable damages include funerary expenses, services and support given to relatives, parental guidance and nurturing, wages and benefits, medical bills associated with the deceased’s necrotizing fasciitis, the deceased’s conscious pain and suffering, and loss of inheritance.

All We Do Is Injury Law

If you developed or lost a loved one to MRSA or necrotizing fasciitis due to a delayed diagnosis, missed diagnosis, or other form of medical negligence, you may have grounds for a Virginia medical malpractice claim. Since the personal injury law firm of Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp first opened its doors in 1985, our Virginia Beach medical malpractice attorneys have been helping victims harmed due to medical negligence pursue justice and fair compensation for their losses. By prioritizing our client’s best interests and applying our thorough knowledge of Virginia medical malpractice laws, our firm recently obtained a $2.23 million wrongful death/medical malpractice jury verdict on behalf of a client who died when her medical provider failed to respond to clear signs of necrotizing fasciitis. 

To consult with one of our experienced Virginia Beach medical malpractice attorneys, schedule a free case review by calling (833) 997-1774 or filling out the simple contact form on our website. We serve clients throughout Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Hampton.