You left the hospital without your newborn, who is sick with a staph infection, which is heartbreaking. Your doctor said the baby could have contracted the infection in the hospital, even from you. You are likely worried about your baby’s health and may be wondering if this devastating condition could have been avoided. Understanding more about staph infection in infants, how parental transmission of Staphylococcus aureus to babies occurs, and the latest method for prevention of such transmission while a newborn is in the hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) may help to assuage some of your concerns during this undoubtedly stressful time. Fortunately, researchers at Johns Hopkins recently developed a new approach to prevent parental transmission of staph infection to their babies, providing a promising strategy that may be incorporated into hospital policies and procedures moving forward.
If you suspect that your doctor or the hospital played a role in your child’s contraction of staph infection or another infection, contact our skilled pediatric malpractice lawyers to discuss your case and gain a better understanding of your rights. We assist families with children and infants who have suffered harm due to medical negligence in New Jersey and consult on these cases on a national scale. You can reach us online or by phone at 866-708-8617. Our phones are answered 24/7 to best assist you and consultations are provided free of charge.
The Hazards of Undiagnosed Staph Infection in Newborns
Staphylococcus aureus is a common germ that is typically harmless to most people. About one-third of the population has it, typically inside of their noses and on their skin. However, staph can be dangerous and even fatal to the most vulnerable people, including those with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart and lung disease, as well as to intravenous drug users or prosthetics wearers. Although the bacteria tend to spread in locations where people gather, such as locker rooms, in which people share towels and razors, it most often attacks individuals where they are most susceptible: in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Those with weakened immune systems are vulnerable to the bacteria’s worst effects, as staph has the potential to develop into serious infections. In fact, staph infections can invade the heart, lungs, skin, stomach and bones. If left untreated, it can lead to potentially fatal pneumonia or blood poisoning.
Newborns, with their immature immune systems, are especially vulnerable to staph infections. This is particularly true for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for prematurity or illness. So new and fragile, these infants lack the necessary antibodies to fight infection. So how do they get infections? Infants are typically contaminated by hurried hospital workers, those who have been lax on hygiene or sanitization procedures, or by hospital equipment like ventilators or catheters. Nevertheless, babies can also contract staph from their parents. While hospital staff are more accustomed to hand and equipment sterilizing procedures, parents are generally not. As such, parents who touch their babies and mothers who breastfeed their newborns may contaminate their babies through skin contact. And in the neonatal intensive care unit where babies are often sick and weak, infection can be deadly. When fighting for their lives already, a staph infection can lead to severe complications or even more tragically, death.
Infected newborns who present with high or low temperatures, lethargy, vomiting, irritability, skin sores, slow or fast heartbeat, may have contracted staphylococcus aureus. This situation must be immediately addressed by medical professionals and prevented at all costs, as babies with staph can become seriously ill. In addition, approximately 10% die of the infection, while others such as premature babies, may be left with permanent neurological damage. A new study, however, provides a simple solution to prevent spreading the bacteria to infants. Researchers at Johns Hopkins may have paved the way toward lives saved with a new method involving mupirocin ointment and antiseptic wipes.
Making Strides toward Prevention of Staph Infection for Babies in the NICU
In a Johns Hopkins Medicine study, researchers approached infection prevention in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) from a different angle, specifically by preventing parental transmission of staph. They found that applying mupirocin to parents’ noses and then wiping their skin with a common antiseptic used to sterilize patients for surgery, 2% chlorhexidine gluconate, greatly reduced the risk of newborn infections in the NICU. Although further testing is necessary, the study has promising global benefits. The study’s authors hope that all facilities disinfecting parents in this way will greatly reduce the spread of the potentially deadly microbe from parents to their infants.
Hospitals, medical centers and other birthing facilities have the opportunity to employ this new approach to better prevent babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) from developing infections caused by Staphylococcus bacteria. If a newborn already has an infection, treatment may include a course of antibiotics targeting the specific bacteria that caused the infection. Typically, Methicillin is the antibiotic prescribed to combat staph aureus infections. However, staph infections can be caused by many different germs, including antibiotic-resistant superbugs like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). In cases involving drug resistant bacteria, the baby may require extensive intravenous drug treatments, which sometimes have undesirable side effects. Weighing the benefits and drawbacks of an intended treatment for infection is best left to an experienced physician.
Medical Negligence with Staph Infection in Infants in New Jersey
Regardless of the specific situation, it is imperative for doctors, nurses, and others to remain acutely aware of potential infections affecting infants and to take necessary precautions to prevent infection by having proper procedures in place and following them to the letter. Drawing on these recent studies, clearly medical staff must not only sterilize NICU personnel and equipment, but also visiting parents. Preventing staph aureus bacteria complications is a race against time, and prompt treatment is critical. Medical practitioners must diagnose and treat staph infections in newborns quickly to prevent infecting the bloodstream and vital organs, causing permanent damage or death. Failure to identify or treat a child’s condition in a timely manner can have catastrophic consequences, and may constitute malpractice.
Overall, a simple precautionary measure like sterilizing parents and NICU infants against staph, has been found to reduce infection risk. Although more research is needed to confirm the Johns Hopkins study, this practice could save lives. If you believe that the hospital was negligent with sterilization protocol, or your baby’s doctor failed to diagnose and treat staph infection promptly, contact us today at 866-708-8617 to discuss your situation with a New Jersey pediatric malpractice lawyer who can advise you of your legal options. Free consultations are always available and we are happy to answer all of your questions.
- Milstone AM, Voskertchian A, Koontz DW, et al. Effect of Treating Parents Colonized With Staphylococcus aureus on Transmission to Neonates in the Intensive Care Unit: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2020;323(4):319–328. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.20785
- Trial suggests babies in intensive care can be better protected from parental bacteria, ScienceDaily
- Staphylococcus aureus in Healthcare Settings, CDC