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US hospital sued after baby dies following eye exam

31/10/2018By Richard Chiu • Staff Journalist
The parents of a premature baby who allegedly contracted a fatal virus during an eye examination have sued a US hospital.

According to the lawsuit, Melanie Sanders – born before her 25th week – contracted an adenovirus infection at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in an outbreak that affected 22 other infants subjected to an eye exam in 2016.

Local newspaper The Philadelphia Inquirer reported contaminated equipment stemming from a failure to wear gloves has been blamed. All 23 cases – including Sanders – represented more than half of the 43 infants who underwent eye exams in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital in August 2016.

The affected infants suffered respiratory symptoms, and five went on to develop pneumonia. In addition, 11 of the 23 experienced infectious symptoms in their eyes, while six hospital employees and three parents also contracted viral infections.

Sanders began experiencing respiratory symptoms in mid-August and tested positive for adenovirus type 3. Patients with weakened immune symptoms or existing respiratory or cardiac disease are at higher risk of developing severe illness from an adenovirus infection.

The baby went into chronic respiratory failure and required a drainage tube placed in her chest on four separate occasions. She developed a bacterial infection on top of the viral illness and died on September 11, 2016.

The alleged contaminated equipment blamed for the outbreak included an ophthalmoscope that supposedly hadn’t been cleaned between examinations. Describing the use of contaminated equipment as “shocking”, Mr Shanin Specter, the lawyer representing the Sanders family, accused the hospital staff of negligence.

Specter told The Inquirer the negligence was exacerbated by the fact the patients were neonatal babies younger than one-month-old being treated in an intensive-care unit. A second lawsuit was filed by Specter on behalf of another infant who also died of similar causes in the same hospital, but he was investigating if the adenovirus was responsible for it.

The hospital acknowledged the outbreak after a case study was published in a 2017 medical journal where “observations revealed a lack of standard cleaning practices of bedside ophthalmologic equipment and limited glove use”.

The hospital claimed it had responded to the study by reinforcing the importance of hand washing, improving equipment cleaning, and instituting a “staff furlough”.

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