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Medical Negligence
Diagnosing and Treating Infection

Diagnosing and Treating Infection

There are many different types of infection, some relatively minor and some potentially deadly. Whatever the infection, medical practitioners must diagnose the problem and pursue a suitable course of action whether giving antibiotics or performing radical debridement surgery.

Sadly in some cases medical practitioners fail to diagnose and treat an infection. This might occur because of a misdiagnosis, a delay in providing treatment or a failure to offer the correct course of treatment.

No matter what the circumstances, if doctors do not diagnose and treat an infection properly and this causes the patient to suffer harm, there may be a case of medical negligence. If this has happened to you or your family member, you need to talk to a solicitor about the options available.

A solicitor will listen to your experience before suggesting what action you should take next. If there has been an incidence of medical negligence, you may be told that you are able to make a claim for compensation.

Bacterial infections and viral infections

Infections are either caused by bacteria (bacterial infection) or by a virus (viral infection).

Bacterial infections

Bacteria are single-cell organisms. There are extremely small and can only be seen under a microscope. There are many different varieties of bacteria, most of which are good and some of which are bad.

In fact, only around 1% of bacteria will make a person unwell. The other types of bacteria help bodily functions. For instance, bacteria live in our gut and maintain a natural balance, aiding the digestion of food. It is when this balance becomes upset that a person will fall sick.

One of the most common types of bacteria that can make you ill is the Streptococcus infection, often shortened to strep infections. This family of bacteria can cause an array of infections, ranging from a sore throat to necrotising fasciitis (a serious flesh-eating disease).

Bacterial infections may arise because the bacteria have entered the body from an outside source, getting through an orifice or cut in the skin. Alternatively the balance of bacteria may be upset inside the body. An example of this is when patients are taking antibiotics. This can alter levels of good bacteria within the gut, meaning the bad bacteria become more prevalent. This can lead to illnesses such as C. Difficile.

Types of bacterial infection

Types of bacterial infection include:

  • Throat infections e.g. tonsillitis
  • Cellulitis
  • Necrotising fasciitis
  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Septicaemia
  • Pneumonia
  • Ear infection
  • Impetigo

Diagnosing and treating a bacterial infection

Most bacterial infections will cause similar symptoms, such as a fever and a general feeling of being unwell. There will often be pain at the site of infection for instance, tonsillitis will lead to a sore throat, while necrotising fasciitis will cause pain in the deep tissue.

Medical practitioners should be able to recognise the signs of a bacterial infection relatively quickly. A diagnosis can be confirmed with simple tests, such as blood and urine tests. If a bacterial infection is present, the blood test will show a raised C-Reactive Protein count and a raised white blood cell count.

Once diagnosed, a suitable course of action should be decided upon. Bacterial infections are almost always treated with antibiotics. In some cases, if the infection is very minor, doctors may choose to withhold antibiotics. But if treatment is needed, antibiotics may be given orally or intravenously (straight into the vein). If the infection has caused gangrene, surgical debridement will be required, whereby the dead tissue is cut away.

Viral infections

Viral infections are called by microbes made up of genetic material (DNA or RNA) surrounded by protein. These microbes are even smaller than bacteria. A virus is not a living thing and so needs a host in order to survive. This means the virus attaches itself to cells. The virus often damages or changes the make-up of the cells, causing the virus to be reproduced when the cell divides. In some cases the virus can even make the cells cancerous.

There are not good viruses in the same way that there are good bacteria. Most viruses will make a person unwell. Different viruses will affect different areas of the body some will attack the liver, while some will attack the respiratory system and so on.

Viral infections will spread from person to person. Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot live on inanimate objects and surfaces because they need a host to survive. This means that viruses are caught off other people, although sometimes insects such as mosquitoes will carry a virus from one person to the next.

Viral infections can spread from coughing, sneezing, physical contact, sexual contact, faeces or water/food contamination. Each virus has a particular way of spreading for instance, HIV spreads via bodily fluids such as blood or sexual fluids.

Types of viral infection

Types of viral infection include:

  • The common cold
  • Flu (influenza)
  • HIV
  • Chickenpox
  • Hepatitis
  • Herpes
  • Ebola
  • Shingles
  • Measles
  • Viral meningitis

Diagnosing and treating a viral infection

Each virus will have a different set of symptoms. Some, such as sexually transmitted viruses, might not lead to any symptoms. Others, such as viral meningitis, will cause very obvious symptoms such as headache, rashes, vomiting and a stiff neck.

A diagnosis of a virus will be largely based upon the patient's symptoms. Medical practitioners must consider a patient's symptoms and use their knowledge to determine what type of virus may be present. This diagnosis can be confirmed with certain tests, including blood tests and tissue cultures. If a virus is present, the blood test will show raised antibodies, while a tissue sample will show genetic material of a specific virus.

Once diagnosed, a virus should be treated accordingly. Antibiotics cannot treat a virus. Instead antiviral medication must be given. In some cases, such as the common cold, doctors will not need to offer any sort of treatment. However, serious viral infections such as meningitis must be treated or it could prove fatal.

Failure to diagnose and treat an infection

If medical practitioners do not diagnose and treat an infection, be it bacterial or viral, the consequences could be severe. This is particularly true of serious infections like meningitis, necrotising fasciitis, sepsis and hepatitis.

If a patient is not diagnosed and treated due to medical error, and he/she suffers complications as a result, there may be a case of medical negligence. This might arise if doctors:

  • Fail to make an accurate diagnosis
  • Fail to diagnose the condition quickly enough
  • Fail to provide the correct course of treatment
  • Fail to provide treatment in a reasonable amount of time

Whatever the circumstances of the care, if you or your loved one has been harmed because of medical error, you need to talk to a solicitor today. Contact us for more information.

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