Infections, Sepsis and Meningitis in Newborns
One of the most common complications during labor and delivery is the spread of an infection from the mother's body to the baby's body. Babies' developing immune systems are quite vulnerable, and that means even an infection that the mother was able to fight off easily can be very dangerous to the baby.
Some types of infections that can be transmitted from mother to baby include:
- Group B strep (GBS)
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Sexually transmitted infections, like syphilis
Most infections can be treated in the mother's body. If that is not possible, there are ways to prevent the infection from being transmitted to the baby. The first step is to identify whether an infection is there - remember, even if the mother has few symptoms, the baby could be at risk. Doctors need to test for infections during prenatal visits and intervene appropriately if there is a danger to the baby.
Potential complications if an infection spreads to the baby
If a baby is born with an infection, doctors need to move quickly to treat it to prevent two serious complications:
- Sepsis: An infection is said to have become septic when it spreads to the bloodstream. Sepsis is a severe and potentially fatal complication when it leads to septic shock - a dangerous drop in blood pressure. This can cause organ failure and permanent internal damage.
- Meningitis: This complication occurs when an infection spreads to the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Those membranes start to swell, which can permanently damage the brain or spinal cord - causing permanent damage that leads to cerebral palsy, epilepsy and/or paralysis.
In a newborn's body, an infection can progress quickly, so immediate intervention is critical. For example, if a baby is showing signs of a bacterial infection, the doctor should order a test to confirm the diagnosis - but also start antibiotics right away instead of waiting for the test results. It's almost always much better for the baby to get an unnecessary dose of an antibiotic than to risk septic shock or meningitis due to a delay in treatment.
The role of negligence in infection-related birth injuries
Detecting and treating infections is a well-known and well-documented part of prenatal and labor and delivery care. Doctors are expected to follow standards of care in these situations, and families have recourse under Pennsylvania law in the event of an injury. When poor infection management leads to complications like cerebral palsy and epilepsy, the negligent doctor or hospital needs to be held accountable.
If your baby was injured due to an infection, we strongly recommend scheduling a free consultation. If you need an attorney for your Pennsylvania birth injury, Help For Your Baby's birth injury experts will review your situation and, if necessary, put you in touch with one.