Infectious diseases are disorders caused by organisms such as bacteria, viruses or parasites. Many organisms live in or on our body. These organisms are normally harmless, and sometimes, helpful to us. Under certain circumstances they can, however, cause infectious disease.
Infectious Disease – Strep A
The group of bacteria known as Strep A include a wide range of bacteria, which look like short strings of beads when looked at under the microscope. These bacteria are responsible for a wide range of infections which range in severity from mild to severe and life threatening. Most commonly Strep A causes infections of the skin and throat, such as impetigo or ‘strep throat’. Scarlet fever and rheumatic fever are also caused by these bugs, but thankfully these infections are not the threat to life that they used to be in the past.
Strep A bacteria become dangerous when they invade the body and infect the blood, lungs and other organs. In the worst cases, Strep A infections cause death by shock and organ failure. The headline maker ‘necrotizing fasciitis’ also known as the ‘flesh eating disease’ which is also caused by Strep A, is thankfully not as common as the media coverage would lead you to expect. However, when outbreaks of Strep A infection happen, they can have devastating consequences.
NHS Mid Essex deaths
In September this year, it was confirmed by NHS Mid Essex that 14 people have now died from Strep A infection. In total 37 people in the area have been infected, with symptoms ranging from a simple sore throat, to a high fever and vomiting. All affected are elderly and most were receiving treatment for wounds, either in care homes or in their own homes. It is thought that the infection may have been spread by unknowingly contaminated health care workers who were treating the wounds. Enhanced infection control measures are now in place and a deep clean of nursing bases has been ordered by Public Health England. Hopefully, the infection is now contained, and no other victims are claimed. We will no doubt hear more, when an Inquiry takes place.
Infectious Disease – Strep B
Strep B bacteria colonise the gut and genitourinary tracts of around one third of healthy adults and cause no harm. In fact, most people won’t realise they have it. The danger arises when the bacteria enter the body, especially in vulnerable people such as children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. In these cases, there is a risk of very serious illness and death due to sepsis, lung infection and meningitis.
Strep B and babies
In recent years, the spotlight has been turned on new-borns who have contracted the infection during delivery. Around 25% of women have Strep B in their urinary or vaginal tract without having any symptoms. However, the infection may cause problems with the pregnancy, including stillbirth, miscarriage and early delivery. In addition, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, these women have a 50% chance of passing the bacteria to their baby. Strep B is especially dangerous in babies and infants who can develop meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis. These conditions can lead to brain damage and in the worst cases, death.
Currently in the UK, between 400 and 500 babies are born infected with Strep B. Each week one baby dies from Strep B infection and another is left with a severe, life-altering disability. Since 2000, there has been a 31% increase in the rate of Strep B infections in babies under 3 months, despite prevention guidelines being introduced in 2003.
Testing mothers for Strep B
Sadly, a simple test can determine whether a pregnant woman is a carrier of Strep B and then steps can be taken to administer antibiotics throughout labour to prevent transmission to the baby.
However, these tests are not routinely performed and currently experts say that there is not enough proof that a national screening programme would benefit mothers and babies.
Although, the test is routinely performed in the USA, Canada, Germany, Spain and France and as a consequence, the rate of Strep B infections in babies has dropped. Currently the infection rate of early Strep B in the UK and Ireland is 2.5 times the US rate and 1.5 times the rate worldwide.
A new study by the Nottingham University is to examine whether Strep B testing is effective and should be a routine part of a mother’s care plan. In the meantime, we will continue to hear of cases such as that of baby Moore who developed sepsis and meningitis just 24 hours after her delivery. The child suffered permanent and severe brain damage as a result. Another family endured the loss of a baby days after he was born, due to sepsis caused by Strep B infection. The infection resulted in the child suffering severe brain damage and he was removed from life support 4 days after his birth.
Then there is the highly publicised case of Olympic sprinter Iwan Thomas’s new-born son, which has helped to raise awareness of the condition. Shortly after his birth Thomas’s son was admitted to intensive care because of breathing problems. The cause was Strep B. That night, Thomas read up on Strep B cases and was terrified to find out that ‘one in 10 babies die after treatment’.
Thomas also described ongoing concern that his infant son could develop further health complications as a result of the infection. Conditions that can arise from a Strep B infection include cerebral palsy and other forms of brain damage. These conditions reflect damage that arose from the infection, but only come to light as the child gets older. Thomas said that neither he nor his partner were aware that Strep B was a potential problem and if they had known about it, they would have arranged to have a private test, which costs as little as £35 and if offered routinely by the NHS would cost just £11, according to the Group B Strep Support charity.
Infectious Disease – Sepsis
One of the potential symptoms of any infection, including Strep A and Strep B, is sepsis. Sepsis is a highly dangerous life-threatening condition, which arises as the body responds to infection. What happens is this: the immune system identifies an invading bacteria or virus and mounts an inflammatory immune response which inadvertently causes damage to the body’s own organs and tissues. Symptoms of sepsis can include a high fever, increased breathing and heart rate and confusion. Sepsis can reduce blood flow to organs, causing tissue damage.
The risk from death from sepsis depends on the severity and if it responds to treatment: for severe sepsis the death rate can be as high as 50%, and for septic shock as high as 80%. However, if the symptoms are recognised early and treated correctly, most people will make a full recovery. Even so, in the UK 5 people every hour dies from sepsis.
The actor Jason Watkins recently shared a devastating story about his two-year-old daughter. Toddler Maud died 8 years ago. She had been suffering from a sore throat and shortness of breath. Her parents took her to hospital on two occasions, but she was discharged home with antibiotics. Sadly, she died during the night in her bed. The cause was sepsis.
In another harrowing story, an 11-year-old boy injured his ankle while dancing. Shortly afterwards he developed a fever. Over the next few days his condition worsened, and he died from septic shock. The NHS Trust admitted that ‘early signs of sepsis’ were evident on his visit to hospital and that if he had been treated promptly it is likely that he would have survived.
Has anything like this happened to you or to someone close to you?
Have you or someone close to you suffered long term consequences due to inadequately treated infection? Has someone died that could have otherwise lived if the infection had been spotted on time? If medical negligence has resulted in injury or death, you may be able to claim compensation. For a claim to be successful it must be shown that a duty of care was owed the patient and that duty of care was breached, for whatever reason, resulting in harm. If you think you may have a case for compensation as a result of medical negligence, please get in touch with our specialist team. We are ready to hear from you and we want to help. Call 020 7485 8811 or complete our online contact form.
Our Promise to You
- We will review your potential claim by advising you on the NHS complaints procedure or other alternative procedure if your case does not relate to NHS care and treatment.
- We will not charge a fee for our time in reviewing your case.
- We can assist you with any issues that you may have regarding the complaints procedure or that you encounter in obtaining copies of your medical records.
- We will advise you of the course of action in respect to your case.