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The Consequences of Improper Treatment of Illness in Pregnancy


When Kelsey Young, a healthy 20-year-old pregnant woman went to the hospital with flu symptoms in August, she trusted that her doctors would provide her adequate and proper care. Due to their alleged failure to do so, Kelsey delivered her daughter Ava at a premature 32 weeks gestation and died ten days later. Kelsey died of complications from the treatable H1N1 influenza.

Federal health officials reported that during the first four months of the H1N1 outbreak, April-August 2009, 100 pregnant women were hospitalized in intensive care units due to complications from the disease and 28 of those women died. Disturbingly, a recent study concluded that none of the pregnant women it evaluated who died as a result of complications had been properly treated for the disease in a timely manner.

Doctors have a responsibility to properly diagnose and treat the conditions of their patients. Heath care professionals who negligently or carelessly fail to provide appropriate treatment in a timely manner can be held liable for medical malpractice. Failure to diagnose or treat the illness of a pregnant woman can have particularly startling consequences, as such failure often affects both mother and child.

Communicable Diseases

Pregnant women are considered to be “immunocompromised” simply by being pregnant, as their bodies engage in the work of two individual beings. As such, pregnant women are considered high-risk for contracting and suffering complications from communicable diseases such as seasonal influenza and the H1N1 influenza.

Pregnancy changes the organization of the body’s internal organs and reroutes the focus of a woman’s immune system. These changes put pregnant women suffering from the flu or other communicable diseases at high risk for heart and lung complications. Some common diseases can additionally put fetuses at risk of stillbirth, spontaneous miscarriage, brain damage due to high fever and preterm delivery.

Otherwise Innocuous Conditions

Some conditions that do not ordinarily affect women negatively can pose problematic consequences during pregnancy. It is up to a woman’s doctor to understand, test for and properly treat these conditions. One such condition is Group B Streptococcus (GBS) which is a bacterial infection found in 15-40 percent of healthy, adult women. Screening for this condition should be done between the 35th and 37th week of gestation, in order to determine whether GBS will affect a woman’s delivery. If properly caught, GBS can be treated with antibiotics. If not properly diagnosed, GBS can cause complications during delivery and pass to the infant. If passed to the infant, he or she may suffer sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis or kidney problems. It is especially important that doctors test for GBS at the appropriate time, as most women who contract the infection are asymptomatic.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Some sexually transmitted diseases can uniquely harm pregnant women and their offspring. If these diseases are not properly diagnosed and treated, they can cause complications for the mother and problematic consequences for a fetus or newborn. STDs that can uniquely affect pregnant women include:

Syphilis: It is exceptionally important for doctors to test pregnant women for syphilis and treat them with penicillin before the fourth month of gestation. If not treated by this time, fetuses are at high risk of contracting congenital syphilis in the womb or during delivery, which may lead to stillbirth or miscarriage. Should an infant contract syphilis during pregnancy or delivery, symptoms may not appear for seven or eight months. As syphilis can cause damage to bones, teeth, vision, hearing and other organs, as well as possible death in infants, it is extraordinarily important that doctors correctly diagnose and treat pregnant women with syphilis in order to avoid transmitting the disease to their children.

Trichomoniasis: Though the cure rate for this STD is 90-95 percent, doctors must be careful to screen pregnant women for the condition because 40 percent of infected women experience no symptoms. Trich tests are not routinely given to pregnant women, so women should ask that a test be performed, in case a physician overlooks the need to administer a test if no symptoms are present. Testing is important however, as trich can cause a high risk of premature birth, stillbirth and premature rupture of membranes which can cause severe complications during delivery.

Gonorrhea: Physicians must test for this STD because 75 percent of women who contract the disease are asymptomatic. If untreated, gonorrhea can be passed to an infant at birth and cause blindness, meningitis, pneumonia and septic arthritis. The STD is treatable during pregnancy, but contracting the disease leads to an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and preterm labor, regardless. Proper treatment can give pregnant women and their offspring the best chance at a complication-free pregnancy and delivery.

For Further Reference

If you have suffered complications due to a doctor’s failure to diagnose or properly treat an illness during pregnancy, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney.

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