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Stamford Judicial District, Connecticut

This case involved the death of an infant from disseminated neonatal herpes less than two weeks after birth. The plaintiff, the infant’s mother, contended that the infant’s pediatricians were negligent in failing to test for herpes sooner and not diagnosing the condition in time to save the baby’s life.

After the baby’s birth, when mother and baby were sent home from the hospital, the baby developed what looked like a rash. The defendant pediatrician diagnosed a staph infection and prescribed oral and topical medication. Approximately two days later, at a follow-up visit, the baby looked like he had improved. Two days after the follow-up visit, the infant appeared to be sick again and the plaintiff brought him back to the pediatrician’s office. One of the doctors agreed that the baby appeared sick and personally drove the infant to Norwalk Hospital, where he was placed in the neonatal ICU and treated for staph infection with intravenous antibiotic drugs. Again the baby’s condition seemed to improve. The next day, however, the infant took a turn for the worse and was driven to the hospital at Yale University. At Yale University Hospital, the baby’s skin lesions were tested for herpes which turned out positive.

Repeated herpes tests upon the mother, however, were negative.

At trial, the defendant pediatric group contended that its doctors had not deviated. There was no reason to test for herpes initially because the baby responded to the medication prescribed for staph infection and appeared to be getting better. Moreover, according to the neuropathologist from Yale who prepared a report after the baby’s death, the baby had herpes in his brain very early on, probably within a day or two of his birth. Earlier treatment probably would not have made a difference in the outcome since the prognosis for neonatal herpes is very grim. The defendant’s experts neonatologist and pediatrician also stressed that neonatal herpes is very rare, especially when the mother does not have herpes and is largely untreatable. The plaintiff’s infectious disease expert disagreed with defendant’s contention of grim prognosis and contended that the disease is treatable, as long as it is caught early on. The jury found that the baby should have been tested for herpes earlier, but held that the lack of testing was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages. Judgment was entered in favor of the defendant pediatric group.

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