Superbugs in Hospitals

Can a hospital be held liable if a patient acquires a superbug while receiving treatment?

The term “superbug” is used to describe several strains of dangerous bacteria that have become resistant to the majority of commonly used antibiotics.  With the increasing over use of antibiotics, superbugs have become more common, and many fear a future of bacterial illnesses with no known cure. Hospitals are the number one site for superbugs due to the high concentration of ill patients.  While some serious infections will have no known source, at times an infection clearly acquired in the hospital could give rise to a medical malpractice action.

Hospital Acquired Infections Defined

An infection is deemed a “hospital acquired infection” or HAI if it develops shortly after hospitalization and it is not associated with the patient’s health issue or diagnosis.  Generally, if the patient shows signs of the infection within 48 hours of admittance or discharge, then the infection was likely acquired in the hospital. Superbugs are just some of many infections that can occur in the hospital.  These infections are among the most dangerous because conventional antibiotic treatment will typically have no effect on the patient.

Causes of Superbugs

Antibiotic resistance builds slowly over time.  Gradually, bacteria adapt to the antibiotics designed to kill them.  They evolve so as to ensure their own survival. As a result, treatments that once killed the bacteria become entirely ineffective.  There are certain circumstances that can fuel the emergence of superbugs, including:

  • The overprescription or misuse of antibiotics
  • Mishandling of food
  • Poor sanitation in hospitals and elsewhere

Liability for Acquisition of Superbugs

Superbugs are extremely dangerous to patients of all ages, but particularly deadly in the elderly or those with certain preexisting conditions.  Patients who acquire a superbug in the hospital are at serious risk of developing sepsis or septic shock. Sepsis involves decimation of an infection throughout the body.  Untreated or without an antibiotic capable of curing the infection, the patient can experience organ failure and potentially death.

Liability for superbugs acquired in the hospital can be complex as the patient’s preexisting factors may come into play.  A hospital could potentially be liable for transmission of a superbug if the infection was acquired due to poor sanitation, unsafe surgical practices, knowingly allowing sick doctors or nurses to work, or like conditions indicating malpractice.  Contact a medical malpractice lawyer for more information about your legal rights following any hospital acquired infection.

About the Author
Of all the different areas in medical malpractice, it is podiatry malpractice that has had a particular interest to me. With 42 years practicing law and representing hundreds of victims of malpractice, I have created a law practice in which my clients are comfortable knowing that their case is being handled with my personal attention, in the most professional manner, and without unreasonable delays.