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Blood-Borne Pathogens & Contamination

Back in the 1980s, the HIV epidemic brought attention to the possibility of transmitting diseases and infection through blood supplies. People became infected with HIV and then sick with AIDS after receiving contaminated blood in a transfusion, and in response control measures were developed to ensure that the blood supply would be safe from transmissible blood-borne diseases.

It’s become much more rare for a person to become infected with HIV through a blood transfusion, but it remains possible for mistakes to happen — and when blood becomes contaminated, the results may be tragic.

Because such strict controls exist for protecting the blood supply, if blood does become contaminated it very well may be the result of negligence. When a medical provider is negligent in giving a patient contaminated blood, that may be medical malpractice.

If you or a family member were harmed by receiving contaminated blood because of medical negligence, you may be able to make a claim for compensation. Through a medical malpractice claim, you may be able to receive monetary compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. An experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer can discuss your options for pursuing a claim, help to compile the evidence to support your claim, and negotiate for a full and fair settlement of your claim. If no settlement can be reached, your lawyer help you decide if you want to proceed with a lawsuit, and try your case in court.

Consequences of Blood Contamination

People who require blood transfusions tend to be vulnerable. Either they’ve experienced a trauma and lost blood, or they need blood because they’re undergoing surgery. Their immune systems are likely to be fragile and they may be susceptible to infections that their bodies may not be strong enough to fight, or that slow their recoveries. Bacterial infections could make them seriously ill, while other blood-borne pathogens may mean becoming infected with an incurable disease that will require lifelong treatment.

  • HIV — Human Immunodeficiency Virus is the virus that causes AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. In the past, AIDS was virtually guaranteed to cause death. With the development of new drugs in the past couple of decades, many people now live relatively healthy lives for many years with HIV before developing AIDS, but at the cost of taking numerous, expensive medications to keep the virus at bay. Medication must be taken meticulously for life, but even with treatment people with HIV may be more susceptible to some kinds of infections than people who are HIV-negative. Additionally, there is always a risk that HIV will be passed to a spouse or any sexual partners, and lifelong precautions must be taken to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
  • Hepatitis — Viral hepatitis is an illness that causes the liver to become inflamed. There are several strains of hepatitis that are transmitted through contact with infected blood. Hepatitis B and C are the two forms commonly transmitted through blood in the United States, and either can lead to serious liver problems. Many people are vaccinated for Hepatitis B as children, but if a person becomes infected with Hepatitis B it can lead to chronic illness, liver disease, or cancer. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, which can cause serious illness and lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer in the long-term.
  • Bacterial Infections — Because blood is screened for HIV and hepatitis, the most likely type of blood contamination a patient may experience is bacterial infection. Bacterial infections may be treatable with antibiotics, but some types of bacteria can cause very serious illness or may be antibiotic resistant such as MRSA. When people who are hospitalized get an infection through contaminated blood, they may become very sick or even die.

Causes of Blood Contamination

Blood may become contaminated in several ways, usually involving someone failing to follow procedures designed to prevent contamination and infection. Some common ways that blood may become contaminated and end up causing disease or infection in a patient include:

  • Contaminated syringes or other medical equipment — When syringes, surgical instruments, or other sharp-edged pieces of equipment are not properly disinfected, sterilized, stored, or disposed of, the result may be the transmission of blood-borne pathogens. For example, syringes should never be re-used and should be disposed of in sharps containers after use. If a medical provider is negligent in disposing of the syringe and the syringe is re-used, that could transmit infection of blood-borne pathogens from one person to another.
  • Contaminated blood supplies used in transfusions — When blood is donated, strict screening standards should be followed to make sure that blood donations are not accepted from people with HIV or hepatitis, or who have traveled in foreign countries who might be carrying blood-borne illnesses. When screening is negligent, blood supplies may be contaminated. Contamination also can happen when blood is stored if inadequate precautions are taken to prevent bacterial contamination.