An untreated or improperly treated Group B Strep infection in an infant can leave the baby with permanent severe disabilities. Given this it is critical for doctors to consider Group B Strep if a baby shows signs of an infection and either rule it out with diagnostic testing or follow the treatment protocol. Below we examine two cases in which babies were showing clear signs of the infection and yet the doctors failed to diagnose it.
Antibiotics for Group B Strep were intravenously administered to a pregnant woman during labor. This is standard protocol for women with a prior history of Group B Strep colonization during the pregnancy, a prior pregnancy, or during screening in weeks 35 through 37 of the current pregnancy. The mother brought the newborn to a pediatrician six weeks after her birth. The pediatrician noted that the baby had a high fever. The pediatrician did not review any of the prenatal records and thus did not realize that the baby had previously been exposed to the bacteria. Unaware of this history, the pediatrician ordered testing to diagnose the cause of the baby's symptoms.
By failing to immediately administer antibiotics the pediatrician allowed critical time to go by during which the baby became septic, developed meningitis and experienced strokes. This left her with mental retardation and seizures that are not treatable with medication. The law firm that handled the case obtained an admission from the pediatrician that antibiotics would have been administered immediately if she had realized that the baby had prior exposure to the bacteria. The case was reported as settled for $6.15 Million.
A newborn had a drop in his heart rate and in time turned cyanotic. When this happens the baby turns blue due to a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. The obstetrician did not order any diagnostic testing. The obstetrician did not attempt any treatment regimens. Instead, the obstetrician transferred the newborn to the nursery for observation without even notifying the pediatrician or any of the other attending physicians of the complications. During rounds, the pediatrician noted that the baby was in respiratory distress. The pediatrician did not consider a Group B Strep infection as a differential diagnosis.
Five hours after delivery, the baby went into respiratory and cardiac arrest. He suffers from cerebral palsy and cognitive deficits and will require full-time life care for the rest of his life. The law firm that handled this matter reported that the case settled for $5.7 Million.
Babies with a Group B Strep infection at first tend to show symptoms that are non-specific for Group B Strep. This is a reason why doctors must consider it as a differential diagnosis when symptoms that could be from a Group B Strep Infection are present in a baby. Both cases above demonstrate a failure to do this. In the first case the pediatrician did not take a complete history from the mother and did not bother to review the prenatal records. The pediatrician thus based her plan on incomplete information. Without the critical piece of information the statistics indicated that the baby's symptoms were from something else. She gambled on the statistics and the baby lost.
In the second case above there was no indication that the mother had a Group B Strep colonization at the time of labor and delivery. The doctors in this case ignored the fact that not all babies that contract the infection have a mother with a positive history. Recent data suggests that up to sixty percent of full-term babies who contract the infection had a mother who tested negative during screening. Two possible explanations are that the mother was colonized by the bacteria after the screening test and that the source of the infection was something other than the mother. In either case relying on a negative screening result can keep a doctor from considering a Group B Strep infection.
When a baby presents with symptoms that turn out to be from a Group B Strep infection a doctor must act immediately in order to avoid the onset of sepsis, pneumonia or meningitis which can all lead to devastating results. If the doctor does not consider a Group B Strep infection in the differential diagnosis and thus delays treatment with resulting tragic consequences the baby and his or her family may be able to successfully bring a medical malpractice claim to recover for the damages suffered by the baby and protect the baby's future.