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Herpes: The deaths of 2 young mothers

View profile for Elizabeth Tolmie
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In 2018, 2 young women tragically died within weeks of giving birth having contracted a “rare” strain of herpes.  The source of the infections is now suspected to have been the surgeon who performed caesarean sections for both of the women.

The women suffered what is known as a Surgical Site Infection (SSI). This occurs at the area of the body where the surgical procedure is performed. A person can develop an SSI either during or after the surgery and the extent of the infection can vary.

Sometimes the infection will only affect the skin. In more serious cases, the infection can begin to affect organs or implanted material. If an infection develops, it can make recovery more difficult or create additional problems for the individual.

Symptoms of an SSI include:

  • Pus or drainage
  • Bad odours emanating from the wound
  • Fever, chills
  • Heat at the wound site
  • Redness
  • Pain or soreness at the wound site

It is important that infection be treated as soon as possible. If it is left too long then there is a risk it could develop into sepsis which can be life-threatening.

Surgeons and hospital staff are given guidance on how to minimise the risks of SSI. Some of these steps are:

  • Cleaning their hands and arms up to their elbows with an antiseptic agent just before the surgery.
  • Cleaning their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after caring for each patient.
  • Wearing special hair covers, masks, gowns, and gloves during surgery to keep the surgery area clean.

Despite having this guidance available to them, negligence can still occur. It may be that steps are missed out when it comes to preparations for surgery, or that care is simply not taken.

For the 2 women, this should have been a happy and joyous occasion but instead they passed away due to the complications arising from their infections. While initially deemed to be unrelated, the coroner dealing with the deaths identified that they had the same surgeon and had been under the care of the same NHS Trust. 

In December of 2021, it was finally announced that an inquest into their deaths would be held. Hopefully, the families of the 2 women will finally get the answers they have wanted since they lost their loved ones.  

The inquest was formally opened on 4 January 2022.

If you or a loved one are concerned about negligence during surgery, or during your medical treatment (private or under the NHS) please contact us and speak to one of our friendly medical negligence solicitors for a free no-obligation discussion on 0121 355 0011.