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The families of two young mothers, Kimberley Sampson, and Samantha Mulcahy, who tragically died from an infection caused by the HSV-1 virus (herpes) after giving birth by Caesarean in 2018, are calling for inquests into their deaths.
Specialist medical negligence solicitor Hannah Carr from our Salisbury team says that the tragic news of the women’s deaths should also prompt an urgent review of how new mothers with unexplained sepsis-like symptoms are tested, diagnosed and treated to prevent future deaths.
What is herpes simplex virus?
Infection with herpes simplex virus, commonly known as herpes, can be due to either herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral-to-oral contact to cause infection in or around the mouth (oral herpes). But HSV-1 can also be transmitted from oral or skin surfaces that appear normal and when there are no symptoms present.
Depending on the initial site of infection, the virus can affect the skin at any site, and so it is possible to transmit the virus where there is direct contact with another infected site i.e. the hands.
Importance of getting a diagnosis and treatment
Neither Kimberly nor Samantha’s babies were found to have been infected by the HSV-1 virus. An analysis of the women’s medical history indicated they had not previously had herpes, so they would have had no antibodies (natural protection) against the virus. This, combined with the fact that women in late stages of pregnancy have reduced protection from their immune system, would have made them more vulnerable to a serious HSV infection.
Of note is the fact that both women experienced unexplained sepsis-like symptoms but did not receive timely or appropriate antiviral therapy. In fact, what is clear is that there appears to be significant delays in reviewing and investigating the symptoms experienced and whether it was appropriate to continue with antibiotic therapy in isolation in light of no meaningful improvement in those symptoms.
Kimberley Sampson’s family made a request to Public Health England (PHE) for access to the investigation into her death. According to the BBC, this request revealed documents which showed a significant link between the two cases.
Among those documents were two email chains between staff at PHE, the East Kent Hospitals Trust, some NHS bodies and a private lab called Micropathology, which show that the two viruses were genetically identical. This adds weight to the argument that the two women were infected by a common source.
The same email chain reveals that the same two healthcare professionals had taken part in the deliveries of both Kimberley and Samantha’s babies – a midwife and the surgeon who carried out their Caesarean sections.
While all healthcare staff wear gloves during surgery there is a risk of contamination or glove perforation. Although rare, there is a possibility of transmission of the virus during the women’s c-sections.
Hannah Carr says:
“It is unclear whether there is an infection control policy in relation to healthcare workers that covers HSV-1 and what measures are in place to try to minimise the risk of transmission. But there must be a review of the relevant NICE Guidelines in the hope it might mean new mothers with unexplained sepsis-like symptoms will be tested, diagnosed and treated.”
If you or a family member has been seriously harmed due to an infection or virus picked up in hospital, our expert, compassionate medical negligence team can help. We also have specialist inquest lawyers who can provide support if you are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Contact us on Freephone 0800 884 0777, email email@example.com or complete our enquiry form for a FREE, no-obligation chat.