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Is a Hospital-Related C. Diff Infection Grounds for a Malpractice Lawsuit?

March 4, 2024

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When people are hospitalized, they and their loved ones expect for them to get better. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, and sometimes, their health declines because they contract diseases that are primarily found in hospitals.

One of the most dreaded hospital-related illnesses is an intestinal illness caused by a bacteria called Clostridioides difficile, or C. diff. This infection can happen to anyone who is hospitalized, but is more common in certain patients, including patients over age 65 and patients who take antibiotics.

Because C. diff can cause such severe symptoms and complications, many people who develop it require prolonged hospitalization and time away from work.

This leads many patients and their families to wonder if contracting C. diff in the hospital makes them eligible for a medical malpractice lawsuit. To learn the answer to this question, it’s important to understand more about what C. diff is and how patients contract it.

What Is C. Diff and Who Is Most Likely to Get It?

C. diff is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Illness from C. diff typically occurs after the use of antibiotic medications and is more common in older adults and in healthcare environments, where germs are more prevalent and patients may have weakened immune systems. People who previously contracted C. diff are also more likely to contract it again in the future.

What Are the Complications of a C. Diff Infection?

C. diff can lead to many serious and potentially life-threatening complications, especially in patients who are already weakened due to age, illness, or severe injury.

These complications include:

  • Dehydration: Severe diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can be life-threatening if not treated.
  • Kidney Failure: This can occur as a result of severe dehydration.
  • Toxic Megacolon: In this serious condition, the colon becomes massively enlarged, which can lead to a tear in the colon (perforation) and sepsis.
  • Perforation of the Colon: Severe infections can lead to a hole in the colon, which can cause a life-threatening infection of the abdominal cavity (peritonitis).
  • Death: In severe cases, especially in those with other serious health conditions, C. diff can be fatal.

It's essential for patients and their families, especially those in high-risk groups, to be aware of the symptoms of C. diff and seek medical attention if they suspect an infection. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in managing C. diff infections effectively.

When Can a C. Diff Infection Become a Medical Malpractice Issue?

In Ohio, not all hospital-related infections automatically qualify as medical malpractice. For a C. diff infection to be considered malpractice, certain legal elements must be proven:

  • Duty of Care: There was a legal duty of care, which is inherent in a hospital-patient relationship.
  • Breach of Duty: The healthcare provider failed to adhere to the standard of care expected, which might involve inadequate hygiene practices, improper use of antibiotics, or failure to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Causation: There must be a direct link between the healthcare provider's breach of duty and the patient's C. diff infection.
  • Damages: The patient suffered harm as a result of the infection, including physical pain, additional medical expenses, lost wages, or emotional distress.

What Steps Should You Take If Your Loved One Develops C. Diff in the Hospital?

If you suspect a hospital-related C. diff infection, either in yourself or a family member, it's crucial to take immediate and appropriate steps, including:

  • Seek medical attention. The first and most important step is to tell someone at the hospital or, if you’ve already left the hospital, to contact your healthcare provider. C. diff requires specific tests to diagnose, and it's important not to self-medicate, especially with antibiotics, as this can worsen the condition.
  • Inform your healthcare provider. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about any recent antibiotic use, hospital stays, or symptoms such as severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. This information is crucial for a correct diagnosis.
  • Follow all medical advice. If diagnosed with C. diff, it's important to follow the treatment plan prescribed by your healthcare provider. This usually involves a course of specific antibiotics.
  • Prevent the spread. C. diff is highly contagious. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom and before eating. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces to prevent the spread of the bacteria.
  • Stay hydrated. Due to the risk of dehydration from diarrhea, maintaining fluid intake is important.
  • Monitor your symptoms. Keep track of your or your loved one’s health. If symptoms worsen or new symptoms appear, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
  • Consider taking legal action. If you suspect the C. diff infection was contracted due to medical negligence like unsanitary hospital conditions or inappropriate antibiotic prescription, contact an Ohio medical malpractice law firm right away. They can begin building your claim and protecting your rights.

We’re Here to Help with Your Ohio Medical Malpractice Claim

At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, we are dedicated to guiding our clients through the extreme difficulty and stress of this devastating disease when it’s caused by a hospital or healthcare worker’s negligence.

If you suspect that your or a loved one’s hospital-related C. diff infection is the result of medical malpractice, we want to hear from you. Contact us today for a free case review and to speak with our experienced Cleveland medical malpractice attorneys.

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