There have been a handful of stories in the news lately about people who have undergone amputations because of strep infections. Three in particular stand out:
- A Michigan father lost his fingers and toes.
- A Tennessee woman also lost fingers and toes.
- A 6-year-old competitive dancer in Ohio lost her left leg.
What happened to these people is rare: the overwhelming majority of men, women and children who develop strep throat will be diagnosed in time, and will be cured of the infection through antibiotics. It is the rarity of these cases, however, that landed them in the news in the first place, and we are likely to see more stories popping up over the next few weeks. We want to go through what happened and why, and help you understand the symptoms of strep better so you can avoid these complications.
How strep bacteria can infect other body parts
What happened in each of these cases is that the streptococcus bacteria spread from the throat and tonsils to other parts of the body via the bloodstream. The bloodstream infection then triggers sepsis, a dangerous reaction of your body to the infection. If left untreated, sepsis can develop into septic shock.
When the body goes into septic shock, its organs begin to malfunction and shut down. This, in turn, causes less blood to flow to the rest of the body. In some cases, this can lead to the death of the tissue: this is what happened to the Michigan father and the woman from Tennessee. The young dancer, however, developed a different condition as a result of the infection: necrotizing fasciitis.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a form of tissue death, but not all tissue death is caused by necrotizing fasciitis, an infection “the fascia, which are connective bands of tissue that surround muscles, nerves, fat, and blood vessels. The infection also damages the tissues next to the fascia.”
More common effects of undiagnosed strep
Just because most people will not face amputation does not mean that undiagnosed strep poses no risks. The Mayo Clinic lists these possible complications from undiagnosed strep infections:
- Kidney inflammation
- Rheumatic fever
- Middle ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Scarlet fever
There may also be a link between strep infections and condition “called pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with group A streptococci (PANDAS). PANDAS is a term used to describe certain children whose symptoms of neuropsychiatric conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or tic disorders, are worsened by strep infection.”
When is failure to diagnose strep an act of medical malpractice?
Since strep throat is a common ailment in children, it is hard to imagine that a doctor of any skill would miss the signs of a throat infection. However, if the bacteria spreads from the throat to other parts of the body and a doctor fails to diagnose the infection once it has spread, then a person may have a claim for medical malpractice. A claim might also be possible if the doctor fails to identify complications or signs of other problems even while the patient is already undergoing treatment for a strep infection.
Do I have to worry about getting strep and losing a leg?
Under normal circumstances, no: you don’t. This does not mean that you can forgo treatment; if you exhibit the signs of strep throat, you will need antibiotics to cure the infection and keep it from spreading. If you are undergoing treatment for a strep infection and you do not seem to be getting any better, or if you start to exhibit new symptoms, you should seek out medical advice immediately. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Plaxen Adler Muncy, P.A. is a premier medical malpractice firm in Maryland. We uphold the rights of those who have been hurt because of medical negligence, defective products, dangerous drugs and other medical errors. To learn more about our services, or to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, please call 410-730-7737, or fill out our contact form.